(Photo: Reuters/Goran Tomasevic)
As many as 150 children between six months and seven years of age are searching for their parents following violence in South Sudan that forced thousands of families to flee from their homes into the surrounding woods.
The Red Cross believes many of these children’s parents were killed in the attacks.
Last week, the Lou Nuer ethnic group reportedly stormed the town of Pibor, home to many members of the Murle ethnic group. Fighting between the two groups has escalated since the country gained independence from Sudan in July 2011.
Tens of thousands of people have fled the area over the last month, as government officials and aid groups struggle to gain entry into the embattled region. As tensions begin to cool, people are beginning to return to their homes, which only presents new problems.
"Hundreds of people are returning to the town from the bush. They are highly vulnerable and they need help," U.N. humanitarian coordinator for South Sudan Lise Grande said in a statement. "A massive emergency operation is going to be needed in the weeks ahead to help people uprooted by the violence.”
Grande added that aid groups like the U.N., Red Cross and Save the Children face extreme danger in the area due to "persistent insecurity."
Two clinics run by Doctors Without Borders in Pibor were attacked and looted of critical medical care equipment. With refugees far from home and unlikely to find resources upon return, aid groups can ill afford to lose precious material in the isolated region.
"Thousands of people … fled in haste and have no food or water, some of them doubtless with wounds," said Parthesarathy Rajendran, head of Doctors Without Borders in South Sudan, in a statement. "Now they are hiding on their own, beyond the reach of humanitarian assistance."
As exiled communities return home, aid groups are figuring out how to match unclaimed children with parents who haven’t returned, cannot be identified or who may be dead.
Save the Children, an aid group supporting under-privileged children worldwide,issued a statement calling for international support in light of the recent violence.
"We suspect many children have been separated from their families and we need to reunite them safely as soon as possible," the statement said.
"Children in the area already live in continual fear of violence and are often abducted during raids," the statement continued. "If fighting continues, thousands more could be killed, maimed, abducted or recruited to fight."
Grande believes that perhaps hundreds were killed in last week's tribal violence, and that many of those struck down were women and children.
According to Save the Children, almost half of Sudanese children already suffer from malnutrition and subsequent physical maladies.