South Sudan is struggling to cope with the increasing flow of refugees pouring from neighbouring Sudan, where a six-month conflict has displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Visiting the country this week to assess the situation, three French MPs met with President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar.
The French lawmakers, from the France-Sudan parliamentary friendship group, visited the Gorom refugee camp, west of the capital Juba, while also holding meetings with a number of South Sudanese politicians.
“Our main objective is to better grasp the humanitarian situation on the ground and direct the attention in France on what’s happening here,” group chair Christophe Marion told RFI’s Florence Miettaux in Juba.
Sudan’s conflict erupted in Khartoum on 15 April, pitting the Sudanese Army against the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.
“We are calling on the world to pay more attention to what is happening in South Sudan,” said Charlotte Hallqvist, a spokesperson for the UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR.
“It’s a sad reality that it’s one of those crises that has fallen out of the media spotlight.”
The Franco-Sudanese friendship group has stressed the importance for France to increase its contribution to ease the humanitarian crisis, which Marion says is “bound to inflate in the coming weeks and months”.
He intends to submit an amendment to the 2024 French budget aimed at ramping up aid for the two Sudans.
As conflict rages on in Sudan, displacement and needs continue to soar.Humanitarians now need $1 billion, twice what was initially required after the conflict started, to support millions fleeing the country.Action can no longer be delayed! UNHCR East, Horn of Africa and Great Lakes (@RefugeesAfrica) September 4, 2023
Gorom refugee camp
The French MPs – who along with Marion included Michèle Peyron and Amélia Lakfrafi – met with refugees in Gorom, which the UNHCR says is overstretched on all fronts, including health care, education and water.
While the camp once hosted around 3,000 people from Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, it has seen a sudden influx of 7,000 new arrivals from Sudan.
“If we do nothing, the disastrous living conditions in the camp will push these people to leave South Sudan and seek a way to reach Europe,” Marion warned – adding that students from universities in Khartoum told him they hoped to travel to Belgium or Paris to complete their studies.
“It is clear the refugees will cross the Mediterranean if we keep doing nothing.”
Even prior to the conflict in Sudan, the South Sudan humanitarian crisis was already underfunded, Hallqvist said. Now, with an influx of 300,000 new arrivals as well as internally displaced people, “we are under a lot of pressure”, she added.
The French MPs held separate meetings with Kiir and rival Machar, during which they also discussed elections in December 2024.
Marion told RFI that Kiir and Machar held differing views on the feasibility of elections, originally due in December this year. However, both agreed the insecurity across the country posed a problem for the polls.
“They both also voiced a genuine need for help from France,” Marion said. “They feel that their country has been abandoned and left alone to face a humanitarian crisis.”
According to Marion, Machar doubts the elections will be able to take place next year and is seeking assurances for a series of conditions under which they might be held.
“He wants a permanent constitution to be agreed upon before elections take place, the repatriation of South Sudanese from neighbouring countries, and educating the population on what elections are all about,” Marion said.
Machar also voiced concerns over a lack of adult literacy that would make it difficult for much of the population to vote.