South Sudan Crisis

Nearly 2.3 million South Sudanese have fled South Sudan and 1.87 million remain internally displaced in South Sudan. These refugees face food insecurity, malnourishment, and fear of being assaulted. It is said to be the largest refugee crisis in Africa and is the 3rd largest refugee crisis in the world after Syria and Afghanistan.

Brief History of South Sudan

The area of Sudan historically was home to the Egyptian and Ottoman empires as well as African kingdoms before the age of imperialism. In the 19th Century, the United Kingdom and Egypt jointly colonized Sudan, splitting it into northern and southern provinces that remained separate until the late 1940’s. The northern province was controlled by Egypt, while the southern province was isolated to allow for Christian missionary work. When these provinces were reunited after WWII, there were vast differences between the two. The people in the north practiced Islam, and had Arabic as its main language, while those in the south practiced traditional African religions or Christianity and spoke English or tribal languages (i.e. Azande, Dinka, Nuer, Shilluk).

With the unification of Sudan, the main administrative language became Arabic, so Southerners became worried that the North would take over their governments in the South. This led to the First Sudanese Civil War (1955-1972), and ended with an autonomous region in South Sudan. Tensions rose again when authorities in Khartoum attempted to impose an Arabic identity onto the rest of Sudan, leading to the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005) as the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) rose up to oppose this. The war ultimately ended with the Naivasha Agreement that reestablished the autonomous region of South Sudan. Six years later, in 2011, a referendum was held and South Sudan was established, making it the youngest country in the world today.

Troubling Economy

Under the 2005 Naivasha Agreement, South Sudan gained 50% of Sudan’s oil proceeds, but this expired after South Sudan’s newly gained independence. South Sudan is naturally resource-rich in oil, so their economy is almost completely dependent on it. However, the country is completely landlocked within Africa, with access to the Mediteranean only through a tributary of the Nile River. Additionally, most of the refineries and infrastructure needed to trade and produce economic gain from oil are based in Sudan, so the economic growth of South Sudan is extremely limited.

Why is this happening?

After a century of exploitation under imperialism and another half-century of conflict, there is little economic or agricultural infrastructure in South Sudan. Most of the arable land in South Sudan has been used to create pastures for livestock and increasing droughts due to desertification have led to food scarcity throughout the country. The history of warfare, along with oil and border disputes with Sudan have also contributed to political unrest in the region. Several rebel groups have been rising up against the SPLM-led government adding another source of instability. These rebel forces have been accused by South Sudan to be funded by Sudan. Ultimately, food insecurity and violence have become the main factors in why 4 out of the 11 million people in South Sudan have been displaced from their homes today.

Who are the ones fleeing and where have they sought refuge?

Around 80% of South Sudanese refugees are women and children. More than 60% of refugees are under 18. Many have faced sexual violence and often arrive at refugee camps unaccompanied. They have fled to neighboring countries like Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Women and girls are not only facing intense rates of sexual violence but are also being burdened with caretaking and housekeeping duties. Simply even completing daily tasks like getting some firewood or leaving their homes to collect water makes them the main targets of attack in a time of heightened violence. Girls are viewed by parents as their only source of income or wealth as a result of the downtrodden South Sudanese economy and the civil war in South Sudan has only served to increase the “dowry-dependent local economy”; girls and women’s bodies being commodified also further increases their exposure to sexual and gender based violence. Young girls are abducted and forced into marriages since it is legal for a child to be married at puberty in South Sudan. Men are also tortured or beat while women and children are often raped in front of their family members, causing psychological torture to family members forced to watch.

Below is a map of the countries these refugees have fled to as well as how many refugees have been taken in by each respective country.

Source – UNHCR, Office of the Prime Minister, IOM, SRCS, COR, HAC

Main Responsible Agency?

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has been working closely with other agencies/refugee organizations to build safe shelters, and establish safe haven systems where people voluntarily open their homes to protect and support South Sudanese refugees. They have also been providing clean drinking water, food, and education. However, funding has been greatly reduced due to the amount of crises around the world and as a result of the pandemic.

Why don’t they just return to South Sudan?

Conditions remain unstable in South Sudan and will continue to be that way until a political solution is reached. Despite this, there are some people returning to their homes in South Sudan which the UN is protecting as it is their right to return to their home country.

Is there enough support?

NO. This crisis has been chronically underfunded. Humanitarian organizations like Mercy Corps are partnering with the United Nation to help remedy and aid the situations millions of innocent people are facing. Mercy Corps is providing latrines, showers, hand-washing, stations and clean water to help people survive and prevent the spread of diseases in camps and communities. There are also living spaces that have been reconstructed to be livable and seeds, tools, and training have been provided so that people can grow food where they are living. There have also been special programs implemented like the cash-for-work programs to give families cash aid to purchase supplies through a partnership with Mercy Corps and Mastercard. Private contributions and funding have also been used in an attempt to reach those in need.

UNICEF has been serving South Sudan for over 60 years and protecting the rights of every South Sudanese child. They advocate for ending the recruitment of children in the military and other armed groups, releasing children from armed groups and working with communities to prevent child marriage. They have also been a part of some amazing work in reuniting children with their families.

“Imvepi Refugee Camp” by UNMISS MEDIA is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Global organization that promotes self-reliance, education, child protection, health and nutrition in refugee populations around the world. They work to create stable conditions in the countries of origin of the refugees so that they can one day return.

Christian organization that treats malnutrition, creates safe spaces for children, and provides health care, and provides supplies and materials, developing the infrastructure to become self-sustaining

A 501(c)(3) organization nonprofit organization that has been helping South Sudan for years now. They have been providing emergency aid, clean water, food, shelter, and attempting to empower the South Sudanese community through infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, and training programs.

An organization founded in New York but specialized in the global refugee crisis in South Sudan, helps provide access to clean and safe water. Strategically serving in areas of dire need, they improve sanitation practices as well as hygiene.