By Carlota Núñez Strutt.
There is little knowledge or a European collective conscience of the conflict torn country that 1,5 million refugees have fled from, in North Eastern Africa: South Sudan. A country that, alongside Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, is currently classified by the United Nations as one of four “Level 3” (the highest level) humanitarian emergencies in the world. After 40 years of civil war, South Sudan separated from Sudan in 2011. Nevertheless, the young South Sudan has been torn by political tensions and violence since its birth.
This week the European Student Think Tank talked to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) South Sudan spokesperson, Eujin Byun about the work of UNHCR in South Sudan. Eujin studied media and journalism in South Korea, where she was born, as well as in the UK and France before starting work for UNHCR in Geneva in 2012. She then spent two years in Beirut as part of the refugee agency’s media production team covering the Syria crisis, producing news pieces and feature stories in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq. She is currently working in South Sudan as a spokesperson covering South Sudan crisis.
Q. The conflict in South Sudan is somehow a forgotten crisis, at least in the eyes of the European media. What do you wish that young people in Europe knew about the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan that the media has not got across?
I want them to see resilience of people; I wish them not only seeing the crisis itself but also seeing people’s resilience in the conflict. I’m working in South Sudan as a humanitarian worker but always think that I can be a refugee any time. They never thought that they would become a refugee one day and they certainly not hope to be one. They don’t like to leave their country; they want to stay in their own country. When they leave their country that means they really don’t have any choice but leave. Mothers decide to leave because of their children safety, older sister who’s only 8 years old have to carry her younger sister for days to walk. They leave their country for their life. They are refugees now but they still have hopes to return to their country and rebuild their country. I hope young people in Europe see that part more which media rarely shows.
Q. Many of the people fleeing conflict in South Sudan that arrive at UNHCR camps have escaped and suffered from intense fighting, kidnappings, rape and and suffer from malnutrition. Do you feel that children that have suffered these terrible experiences are at risk of becoming a lost generation and how does UNHCR work to avoid this from happening?
Over 50% who fled to neighbouring countries are women and children; they are the victims of conflict in South Sudan. UNHCR provides them basic needs which include shelter, health service, food (WFP) and education. We don’t want children suffer more that they already been through. UNHCR builds school as soon as set up a new settlement or camp so that children could continue to study. Many South Sudanese aid worker who are working in refugee camps in South Sudan are former refugees. Most of them grew up in the refugee camps and they went to school in refugee camps. Now they finish their schools and return to their country and work for other refugees and the displaced. They always encourage others never stop studying; they tell them that no one is refugees forever, education is the key to be a better person. We believe Education is the key and that’s why we ensure that refugee children go to school even in refugee camp.
Q. In Europe it feels like we are fighting against International Law to avoid hosting a bare minimum of refugees, whilst in Africa neighbouring countries of South Sudan are hosting 698,000 South Sudanese refugees. How can we build a collective conscience so that Western countries that have many more resources to host refugees will be more supportive towards people fleeing from conflict?
Do you know South Sudan hosts 262,000 Sudanese refugees in their country since 2011? Famine was declared last week in South Sudan yet, they welcomed so many refugees and share what they have. As I mentioned, because they understand that any one can be a refugee, because they understand that no one choose to be a refugee.
Please don’t think about the figure, please think about the one. One child who needs your help to have a better future. One mother who desperately seek safety for her child. One little girl who are carrying her younger sister.
Q. According to a report by US Congress on South Sudan “Donor concern about state corruption is high, amid reports that senior officials have diverted state assets to fuel the war”. How can we ensure that donations made towards humanitarian aid will go directly to organizations like UNHCR and not end up in the hands that are pulling the trigger against civilians?
UNHCR is a humanitarian agency, we are operating in the areas where refugees need out support. We are strictly not involved with any political issues; we are only standing for refugees. We report on how we use donor’s donations quarterly, mid-year, yearly base so that donors assure that their donations were used to help refugees. You can find our year report : http://www.unhcr.org/the-global-report.html
Q. A lot of young people would like to volunteer or work with UNHCR, but the reality of field work in conflict is probably much harder than many students could ever imagine. What advice would you give to young people wanting to volunteer with UNHCR?
I advise them to start what they can help from where they are now. Working in the field is not all about humanitarian work, I believe. If you talk about South Sudan Crisis with your friends, having a forum, tweet, share it online, you are already volunteering our work. Please find something you can do to help raise awareness of refugee crisis all around the world. Please be our young GoodWill Ambassador on social media, and let people know what you know about refugees.
In 2016, the humanitarian appeal for the South Sudan response received less than 75 per cent of the funds needed to meet the demands. Without further contributions, the abilities of the humanitarian response to provide critical aid and key basic services could become severely compromised. DONATE TO UNHCR here.