Fighting In Sudan Displaces 35,000 People

The violence between the two Sudans has displaced more than 35,000 people, according to the United Nation's High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres. Michele Keleman spoke with him about that and the ongoing violence in Syria, despite the presence of UN monitors.

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The fighting between the two Sudans has displaced tens of thousands of people and U.N. agencies are struggling to deal with the consequences. We hear more now on the humanitarian situation from the United Nation's High Commissioner for Refugees. He stopped by NPR to speak with Michele Keleman.

MICHELE KELEMAN, BYLINE: The movement of people across new and often ill-defined borders shows just how complex this conflict is. In recent months, South Sudan has hosted refugees from conflicts in the north and Sudan's bombing raids in the south have gotten awfully close to those vulnerable populations.

The U.N.'s High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, describes the humanitarian situation on both sides of the border as dire.

ANTONIO GUTERRES: The fact that the two countries are not able until now to come to a peaceful solution at the different areas in which they diverge has a dramatic humanitarian impact. And we now are seeing, again, South Sudanese coming into Kakuma Camp in Kenya. And that shows how terrible the situation must be.

KELEMAN: That was a camp that was set up in 1992 for refugees fleeing a decades-long civil war. When South Sudan gained its independence last year, refugees started returning home in droves. Guterres says that was a hopeful moment, but one that has passed.

GUTERRES: Well, that moment has stopped. I mean, we helped almost 500,000 people go back to South Sudan from the neighboring countries, from Uganda, from Kenya, from the DRC, from Central African Republic. And we also helped a lot of people go from Khartoum into the south in the past.

All these movements have stopped and we are now witnessing refugees from the north in the south and also a new wave of refugees from South Sudan, both in Kenya, as I mentioned, and now also in Ethiopia.

KELEMAN: So what does that tell you about sort of the status or the fragility of this peace agreement?

GUTERRES: It's not only the fragility of the situation. It's the same around the world. Old crises seem never to die. Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Somalia. It goes on and on and on and there is a glimpse of hope in a moment where an agreement seems possible, but then, all of a sudden, everything gets into turmoil again.

And this is an enormous challenge for the humanitarian community in the world.

KELEMAN: The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says he's counting on countries with influence in the region to put enormous pressure on both Sudans to make sure this war stops and to deal with their issues pragmatically.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is making a similar appeal.

HILLARY CLINTON: We have been reaching out continuously to the South. Others have been reaching out to the North. We understand how difficult the unresolved issues are between Khartoum and Juba, but no matter how difficult the negotiation ahead may be, it is far preferable to war.

KELEMAN: The tens of thousands of people displaced by the recent fighting is just a drop in the ocean for this part of the world, says Guterres, but he says access is tough. The areas are remote and he's not sounding confident that the two sides can be persuaded to step back from the brink.

GUTERRES: And, if there is no political will and no leadership able to bring two countries together, the people of Sudan and the people of South Sudan are going to suffer enormously in the months to come.

KELEMAN: And this at a time when the U.N.'s top refugee official says the humanitarian community is stretched thin dealing with crises elsewhere in Africa and the Middle East.

Michele Keleman, NPR News, Washington.

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