Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof has called it the “worst atrocity you’ve never heard of.” Since June 2011, the Sudanese government, headed by president (and international criminal!) Omar al-Bashir, has been committing acts of genocide against the Nuba people, a group of indigenous tribes located in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan (named South Kordofan State by the Arab government).
These acts include the perpetual bombing of villages, schools and hospitals, and the strategic keeping out of food and medicine from the Nuba people. On a near daily basis, the Sudanese government, using MiG, Sukhoi, and Antonov warplanes, has executed relentless bombing campaigns against the all but defenseless civilians. As was highlighted by Kristof in the New York Times here, thousands of Nuba villagers have, in turn, had to resort to inadequate means of refuge in the midst of such bombings—hiding in caves and smuggling into paltry in-ground shelters. The people’s only protection comes from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North, the so-called “rebels.”
There have been (albeit insufficient) refugee camp solutions proposed and executed in nearby South Sudan. In fact, over the last five years 70,000 Nuba have fled to Yida, South Sudan. Though not without problems, camp life at Yida has proved relatively favorable, as refugees are able to supplement their World Food Programme (WFP) rations through farming. Being able to farm at Yida has proved absolutely critical for survival, as since August 2015, low funding has caused WFP to reduce rations in South Sudan by 30 percent.
A recent report details that “[p]reviously, each refugee in Ruweng State’s camps received roughly 26.4lb (12kg) of grain per month, but now it is only around 15-17lb, according to aid workers.” Husna Nur, a women’s camp representative explains that “[b]y mid-month you’re finished. . . You have to get out of the [Yida] camp to collect grass to sell, or find some other means to survive.”
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), however, has declared that by the end of June Yida will no longer be a refugee camp, and will instead serve as a registration center used to relocate arriving refugees to other camps. Publicly citing concerns of overpopulation and security, the UNHCR is now in the process of relocating all Yida refugees to a camp at Ajuong Thok, and later at Pamir.
This decision has caused much discontent among Yida residents, many of whom have built new lives at Yida over the past five years, being able to farm and even create businesses. A major concern about the relocation to Ajuong Thok among the refugees is that of basic survival, livelihood. As just mentioned, food rations are short. And unlike in Yida, the host community in Ajuong Thok does not allow refugees to work outside the camp confines. No farming, no outside work to sustain one’s life.
Another chief concern among the Yida inhabitants is that of security, even as the ostensible intention for the relocation is enhanced security.The UNHCR and South Sudanese government suggest that Yida is too close to the Sudan border (therein deviating from UNHCR refugee camp location rules), and that a more secure location like Ajuong Thok would allow for services such as education and healthcare. But this argument seems dubious considering Ajuong Thok is but two kilometers further from the border than is Yida.
And what is more troubling, according to Nuba Reports, Ajuong Thok camp is located a mere 17 kilometers away from proxy militias used by Sudan’s government and less than 100 kilometers from a Sudan Armed Forces garrison base. Yida Refugee Council Chairman Al-Nur Al Saleh explains: “These people [the militias] are the very same people we had to run away from in the first place.” And a frustrated Husna Nur, a Yida camp women’s community representative, insists “We can’t see a fire and just [knowingly] go into it.”
It has been suggested that politicking may well be at play here. Nuba Reports asserts that they have not witnessed firsthand any real security concerns in Yida, oppugning, then, the claims of UNHCR. They also claim local sources are espousing that “political pressure from Sudan, through South Sudan” is clandestinely affecting the UNHCR’s decision (oil politics!).
While the current camp situation at Yida is less than ideal – overpopulation is a serious issue – it seems that forcibly uprooting an already uprooted people, a people who have had innumerable and unspeakable atrocities exacted upon them by their own government, should only be done with the utmost care and with the refugees’ overall welfare as the foremost concern. Given the contingencies of the situation, it appears that the forcible relocation of Nuba refugees at Yida very well may cause more harm than good, leading an already vulnerable people into an even more vulnerable situation.