And to make their misery even more acute, these people feel ignored by the rest of the world.
I have just returned from a harrowing visit to four locations in South Sudan near the border with the Republic of Sudan, writes Baroness Cox.
Each location was a place of massive suffering, reflecting different aspects of the Khartoum Government's brutality towards its own people and aggressive policies towards South Sudan.
First, Agok, a town near Abyei, which suffered from an intense conflict last year where many civilians were slaughtered by Khartoum's troops. The South Sudanese army engaged in conflict but subsequently withdrew. Khartoum's troops have refused to do so and consequently thousands of civilians who fled for their lives. Many are still living as Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in dire conditions in South Sudan, too afraid to return to their homes in and around Abyei.
Next, the vast refugee camp at Yida. Here are thousands of people driven from their homes in the Nuba Mountains by Khartoum's constant bombardment with Antonovs, MIGs, helicopter gunships and long-range missiles. Those who have not fled into exile are trying to survive inside Sudan, hiding in caves with deadly snakes and hungry, as the bombing prevents them from growing crops. As our little aircraft touched down, the airstrip was lined with hundreds of Nuba Mountain people, singing and dancing, many wearing their traditional Nuba beads and head-dress. I had visited them many times during the war years. Now in exile, they remembered and gave this mass display of poignant welcome. As we wove through the vast camp, they continued to sing and dance in this bleak camp. Their predicament will deteriorate rapidly with the imminent rainy season.
Then to Renk, where thousands of African civilians, driven from Sudan by Al-Bashir's racist commitment to turn the Republic of Sudan into 'a unified Arabic, Islamic State', are living in make-shift camps. Intimidated into emigrating to South Sudan, they have left established homes; many only have the few possessions they could bring and are living in pathetic shelters of sticks and flimsy cloth which will be no protection against the storms of the imminent rainy season – and the camp at Jamam will be underwater.
Finally, to Doro, inundated with refugees driven from their homeland in Sudan's Blue Nile State, by Khartoum's constant aerial bombardment targetting markets, schools – and even cattle.
The statistics are appalling:
- half-a-million IDPs are inside Sudan hiding from aerial bombardment in caves in Nuba Mountains or forests in Blue Nile;
- a quarter-of a million refugees now in camps in South Sudan who have fled from this bombardment;
- tens of thousands of Southerners forced into exile in South Sudan. Some have been able to return to places of family origin – but here many face challenges: South Sudan is predominantly a rural economy and many 'returnees' have come from urban environments and jobs. Some are valiantly trying to adapt – but there are insufficient resources of tools, seeds and, often, know-how. Others have lived all their lives in the 'North' and face even greater challenges of adjustment as they struggle to survive in camps like the one we visited.
- With the rainy season imminent, the humanitarian crisis we witnessed will become, for many, a catastrophe. Khartoum has been denying access by aid organisations to the victims of its brutal policies in its own land. And for those in the camps in South Sudan, access by aid organisation will become impossible as roads become impassable.
And to make their misery even more acute, these people feel ignored by the rest of the world. They asked us again and again: the West went to help in Libya. The scale of our suffering is much greater. Why does no-one help us?
A good question.
As one refugee in Yida Camp, from the Nuba Mountains said 'The children need a better life than this one. Are the white people on the same side as Khartoum? Why have they not done anything?'
I hope the question in the House of Lords on Thursday will provide the government with an opportunity to provide a convincing answer.
The new 'home' in a camp near Renk for a family expelled from Khartoum which will provide no protection during the imminent rainy season