As millions flee South Sudan, how is Canada helping?
Published Thursday, January 4, 2018 7:15AM EST
When South Sudan gained independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011, Moses Moini hoped the family he left behind when he fled to Canada in 1992 would finally be safe.
But fighting soon broke out between rival ethnic groups. In December 2013, President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, fired vice-president Riek Machar, a Nuer, and unleashed his Sudan People’s Liberation on Nuer villages. They killed and raped civilians and burned their homes.
South Sudanese refugees queue to receive a lunch of maize mash and beans, at the Imvepi reception centre, where newly arrived refugees are processed before being allocated plots of land in nearby Bidi Bidi refugee settlement, in northern Uganda, on Tuesday, June 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Those loyal to Machar retaliated, also killing and raping based on ethnicity, according to Human Rights Watch. Although a peace agreement was made in 2015, it didn’t hold.
By July 2016, violence spread to Kajo Keiji County, where Moini’s family lived. Moini's mother Lea was reluctant to leave behind the beautiful house he had helped her build just a few years earlier, but he convinced her to flee with her children to Uganda. They spent days sleeping in the rough before arriving at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees camp at Morobi. The UNHCR gave them food, water and a muddy plot of land.
Months later, Lea Moini died.
"It was a stroke brought on by the trauma of being forced to flee her homeland," her son says over the phone from his home in St. Catharines, Ont.
Lea Moini clears land for her house in Kajo Keiji County, South Sudan. (Moses Moini)
Moini's heartbreaking story is just one among millions. Nearly 2 million South Sudanese have fled their nation since 2013, according to the United Nations. Another 1.88 million are internally displaced.
In March, the UN called it the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis.
In sheer numbers, the crisis dwarfs that in Myanmar, which has sent about 646,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing so far this year. Moini says his homeland's situation is similar, yet it gets far less attention.
Moini works for the Mennonite Central Committee of Canada, a non-profit group that has helped resettle about 2,000 Syrian refugees to Canada. He says he hears few Canadians pushing to relocate South Sudanese.
Moini says the reason for the lack of attention is “anybody’s guess” but “discrimination or Afrophobia can’t be ignored."
The good news, according to advocates, is that there are ways that Canadians can do more to help.
Push governments to up aid: advocates
Moini visited the Morobi camp in Uganda in January after his mother died. He says conditions are “depressing.” While Uganda allows people to move about freely and work legally, there aren’t many jobs available, he says. While there were volunteers available to teach at Morobi, there wasn’t yet any school.
It’s easy to see why things like schools might not be the first priority. The UN warned last month that 1.25 million are at risk of starvation as a result of the ongoing conflict.
“The children are suffering,” Moini says. “UNHCR is underfunded," he adds.
Boys get ready to play a game of soccer in Jiech, Ayod County, South Sudan, where there is school past grade 8, on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Sam Mednick)
The UN received 73 per cent of the US$1.64 billion it asked for in 2017 for South Sudan, according to its Financial Tracking Service.
Of the US$1.19 billion received, the bulk of the money (43 per cent) came from the United States, which gave more than US$516 million. That’s about $1.65 per U.S. citizen.
Canada gave US$32.5 million, according to FTS. That’s higher than most countries but only about 92 cents U.S. per capita, which is lower on a per capita basis than Germany (US$85 million or US$1.02 per capita), Denmark (US$31 million or US$5.44 per capita) and Norway (US$22 million or US$4.20 per capita).
Canada’s contributions have included $11.8 million in 2017, $14.6 million 2016, and $11.2 million in 2015 to UNHCR for use in countries hosting South Sudanese, according to Global Affairs.
Canada also supports the World Food Programme, World Vision, CARE Canada, Oxfam and Journalists for Human Rights, Global Affairs said.
Elizabeth Siebenmann, who is working for UNHCR in the South Sudanese capital Juba, says that more money would make a difference.
“UNHCR is certainly in need of resources, so encouraging governments to contribute more to the UNCHR global response and South Sudanese response will certainly help address the great humanitarian needs,” she says.
“The money could support the provision of health services in a refugee camp, it could help upgrade a health post into a clinic, the provision of essential medicine … the salary of health care workers ... access to education for children to be able to go to a classroom that has desks and textbooks and teachers ... building a latrine … making sure there are safe drinking water,” she explained.
A South Sudanese refugee boy sits on a mat outside a communal tent while his brother sleeps, at the Imvepi reception center, in northern Uganda Friday, June 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Charities working on the ground
Maxime Michel, a program manager for CARE Canada, went in October to Uganda, where the non-profit is working to provide shelter, maternal health care and counselling for victims of sexual violence.
While UNHCR is only able to give people shelter kits with basic building materials such as tarps and posts, CARE is using government funds and donations from regular Canadians to hire local people to build longer-lasting, better-quality shelters, Michel says.
“People who come from these really precarious situations, who have lived in the bush trying to get away from conflict, deserve something a bit better than tarps and sticks to try and make their home,” Michel says.
Michel adds many of the women have experienced rape, so they should have shelters with doors they can lock, and access to counsellors, which CARE is also providing.
South Sudanese refugee women play a board game at a women's center focusing on gender-based violence, in Bidi Bidi, Uganda, on Saturday, June 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
CARE also works to help women give birth safely by training birth attendants, building temporary birthing facilities, providing for ambulances for those who need C-sections and providing medications, Michel explains.
Michel points out that while many Canadians picture resettlement as the only way to help refugees, it’s also important to assist refugees “closer to home” by donating to non-profit groups that support them where they live.
“We can’t just uproot people if we have other solutions and other options,” she says.
A list of charities working to address the South Sudan crisis is at CanadaHelps.org.
Siebenmann, Michel and Moini all say the South Sudanese they have spoken with are hopeful they will eventually return to their homeland.
At the same time, they agree that some may be better helped through resettlement to countries like Canada, and are unlikely to get here on their own.
In fact, only four cases referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board from people alleging persecution in South Sudan during the first eight months of 2017.
Elizabeth Nyakoda holds her severely malnourished 10-month old daughter at the feeding center for children in Jiech, Ayod County, South Sudan, on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Sam Mednick)
Moini says Canada should consider a special program that would resettle some of those who are most vulnerable, including the elderly, disabled and families with children.
Push for a peace
Global Affairs Canada says it remains "deeply concerned by the ongoing conflict and fragility in South Sudan, the slow progress of the peace process and the high level of violence and suffering." That's why it announced sanctions against government and military officials in November.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has also turned up the heat, saying in November that the Kiir-led government bears primary responsibility “for the killing, raping and torturing in South Sudan.”
While a ceasefire was agreed to on Dec. 21, South Sudan’s armed opposition said government forces broke it just hours later.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development, which negotiated the ceasefire, confirmed on Dec. 29 that the agreement had been violated.
Still Moini, Michael and Siebenmann are all hopeful that international pressure can lead to a lasting peace.
“The international community needs to work as one to find those lasting political solutions that will address the root causes of conflict," Siebenmann says.
FILE -- South Sudan's First Vice President Riek Machar, left, looks across at President Salva Kiir, right, following the first meeting of a new transitional coalition government, in the capital Juba, South Sudan, on Friday, April 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Jason Patinkin)