Local South Sudanese need help for chaos back home

Raising funds to support refugees affected by violence

On the night of December 15 2013 the barely three-year-old country of South Sudan descended into chaos. Its government declared it was under threat of a coup and sent forces into the capital Juba to root out would-be rebels. It quickly became clear the conflict was genocidal as over the course of several days an estimated 6500 people were killed and nearly a million displaced almost all from the minority Nuer ethnic group.

Calgarian Nhial Wicleek a Nuer was in Juba for a relative’s funeral when the conflict began. He says people were going through the rooms of his hotel looking for Nuer identifying them by their traditional facial scarification marks though Wicleek and his family don’t bear the marks. After sneaking out the back door of his hotel he convinced a passerby on a motorbike to drive him across town to his family’s home. “We saw security agents pulling people from their cars” says Wicleek. Once he met his family they decided to flee to the UN compound in the city.

“We joined up with other people running to the UN compound. Those who were marked were being gathered together pulled out from people that were running including women. And then of course because we had no mark we passed through them…. And then later as the situation was getting worse they began to look for ID a name… when you don’t speak Dinka and your name shows that you are Nuer; your ID indicates and then from there they kill you.”

Wicleek spent three days in the UN compound before he was evacuated to Kenya. His family is still there.

Three months later South Sudan President Salva Kiir signed a ceasefire agreement with Nuer militias but the country remains in a state of crisis.

Now Calgary’s Sudanese community — with a population of 15000 it’s one of the largest in the Sudanese diaspora — is battling international red tape as it tries to get aid to friends and family. On March 17 the Nuer Association of Alberta held a three-hour public forum at the University of Calgary to update the local Sudanese community and raise public awareness of what they are trying to do to combat the crisis.

Association representative Yual Chiek says they are not asking the Canadian government for funding or military intervention. Rather they want it to acknowledge the humanitarian crisis and help them to transfer the funds they’ve raised to refugee camps.

“We need to actually get the funds to them…. We need a moral backing saying ‘we agree that these funds that money the South Sudanese community has raised should be sent through Oxfam through UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] to help those individuals’” Chiek says.

“When I spoke to UNHCR I said ‘these people these IDPs [internally displaced people] in the Juba compound we wish to send about $50000 just to pay for food and we will make sustained contributions typically for these individuals in these IDP camps about $10000 every month and the Nuer community in the diaspora is going to do that’” he adds. Chiek says most NGOs have been forced out of Juba leaving only the UN and Oxfam to supply the camps. He’s written to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Senator Roméo Dallaire for help but neither responded.

Wicleek says he has only been able to send his family money for food and supplies by convincing sympathetic Sudanese outside the camps to deliver it in person through the compound gate — a big risk should government officials find out.

Grace Cahill of Oxfam is currently working with the UN in Juba. She says there are 31500 refugees in two UN camps in the capital and conditions are deteriorating quickly as heavy rains flood shelters and latrines.

Cahill says Oxfam only has 34 per cent of the funding it needs to provide resources to the camps and more money is hard to come by.

“There are so many other big crises going on in the world. I mean the scale of what’s happening in Syria is so devastating and such a drain when it comes to funding humanitarian programs. Also… the Central African Republic has received a lot more attention than South Sudan has in the past few weeks. So I think generally the humanitarian community is struggling to get funds” Cahill says.

MLA Len Webber is also working with Calgary’s Sudanese to figure out how to rush funds to Juba. He promises to do whatever he can on their behalf but says the obstacles are frustrating.

“Word has to get out there more. People have to understand. The Canadian government has to do something about it” Webber says. “I encourage you to talk to your MPs because they have that power right now. They have that voice. I’m just a lowly provincial politician… I can’t think of anything else I can do at this point.”