South Sudan to See Influx of 500,000 New Refugees?

Aid agencies are expressing concern that up to half a million refugees could be fleeing Sudan into South Sudan in the coming months if Khartoum does not extend humanitarian agencies access to its people in need.

A combination of wide-scale food shortages and conflict are pushing Sudanese populations living in the southern Blue Nile and South Kordofan areas across the border and into the newly established, but equally volatile, Republic of South Sudan.

An estimated 80,000 people have already fled Sudan, and Ramiro Lopes da Silva, Executive Director of the U.N.'s World Food Program (WFP), suggested Monday that up to 500,000 Sundance citizens could end up fleeing south in a "worst-case scenario" outcome.

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Estimates suggest that under the current conditions, as many as 1,000 people flee to Sudan daily and experts are raising concerns about how the influx of refugees might impact the already impoverished and unstable nation.

South Sudan is dealing with a food crisis of its own as the WFP estimates that around 2.7 million, or 30 percent of South Sudan's population, will need food aid in 2012. That estimate does not include the number of refugees that have arrived and will continue to arrive from neighboring Sudan.

Further complicating the refugee situation is the hardline Islamist approach recently adopted by Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir, which has also been cited as responsible for pushing Christians and moderate Muslims living in Sudan to flee south in an effort to escape persecution, detention, and maltreatment.

Under a 2005 peace accord brokered by then U.S. President George W. Bush, Sudan and South Sudan ended decades of civil warfare that ravaged much of the south. Under the deal, a referendum was held in Jan. 2011 where over 90 percent of voters opted to separate from the north and establish the Republic of South Sudan.

South Sudan is home to over 200 different ethnic groups, many of which consider themselves Christian. Despite a short and optimistic period of unity that followed South Sudanese independence, interethnic strife among the country's Lou Nuer and Murle tribal groups has reemerged and taken over the Jongeli state with a vengeance. The country's new Juba-based central government lacks both the resources and power necessary to quell the violence in the vast region.

Only days ago Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported "severe inter-tribal warfare has caused 3,000 deaths and displaced over 100,000 people in the last two weeks."

Analysts fear that tribes are targeting ethnic groups with genocidal intent and have expressed concerns over the possibility of stemming the outbreak of violence.

"South Sudan, born six months ago in great jubilation, is plunging into a vortex of violence. Bitter ethnic tensions that had largely been shelved for the sake of achieving independence have ruptured into a cycle of massacre and revenge that neither the American-backed government nor the United Nations has been able to stop," wrote Jeffery Gettleman of The New York Times.

Earlier in the month the South Sudanese government declared the Jonglei state a "humanitarian disaster area."

With continued violence and a food crisis of its own, the country is in a desperately fragile state and many fear that additional strains may cause South Sudan to implode into a further humanitarian disaster and plunge the country deeper into the cycle of poverty and conflict.

"The most recent spike in inter-communal violence compounded an already difficult humanitarian situation in South Sudan," the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan Lise Grande said. "Before the crisis in Jonglei, humanitarian partners were already overstretched."

Although many South Sudanese have not lost hope in seeing their country develop into an East African power, the multiple outbreaks of inter-ethnic strife, displacement, underdevelopment, food crisis, and a daily influx of refugees, paint a grim picture for future peace and stability in the new country.

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