Women, Children Displaced by Violence in Abyei

11/06/2011 - An African Union mediation team will meet with north and south Sudanese officials to come to a solution over the violence in Abyei, which has left at least 100,000 people displaced (mostly women and children).

As the violence between north and south Sudan escalates, leaders from across the continent will meet in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for a special summit of the African Union (AU). The meeting, to be held tomorrow, will focus on Abyei.

Negotiations between Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Southern Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit will be mediated by former South-African President Thabo Mbeki.

The humanitarian situation in and around the disputed Abyei border region remains precarious, as both sides have claimed the oil-rich region as their own. There are also reports of massive displacement and human rights abuses from the Southern Kordofan state.

Aid workers have been struggling to reach people displaced from the fighting that erupted between the Sudan Armed Forces (north) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in the disputed Abyei region last month.

The south-central part of Abyei was attacked by northern troops in retaliation for an earlier attack by southern forces on a United Nations convoy carrying northern troops on May 19th, CNN reports.

An estimated 100,000 people have been displaced by the clashes. An estimated two-thirds have fled to four states in Southern Sudan: Warrap, Northern and Western Bahr-e-Ghazal and Unity. Yesterday, the south’s government put the number of people displaced at 150,000.

Providing emergency assistance to those who have arrived in Warrap has proved difficult due to the poor quality of the roads caused by flooding in the rainy season. It has also been reported that inhabitants of the region are posing as displaced people in order to benefit from food aid. Some are even stealing food from displaced people too weak or tired to defend themselves. Even before the present crisis, the region was known to have few resources and malnutrition among young children was prevalent.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), there are 45,000 registered internally displaced persons (IDPs). Another 36,000 are thought to be on the road from Abyei, still trying to make it to safety.

While the WFP has provided food aid to more than 29,600 people in Warrap, Abyei and Bahr al-Ghazal, food stocks are likely insufficient to cover another large influx of people. Food and shelter – desperately needed to provide reprieve from the rainy season – are in high demand.

Most people fleeing the region are women and children – more than half are children alone, says the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).  According to the International Organization for Migration, 56% of IDPs are women, while 21% are children under the age of four.

Sadly, when some of the fleeing children and elderly persons could not keep up with the rest of the family, they were left behind, says Ines Hake, the chief of a Médecins Sans Frontières  team working in the region. Her patients tend to suffer most from dehydration, diarrhoea or lung infections after spending night after night in the rain.

Unaccompanied minors, including orphaned and abandoned children, are some of the most vulnerable to violence, recruitment into armed groups and human trafficking.

In less than a month, Southern Sudan will become an independent state. The decision was made after a landmark referendum that was part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the long-running civil war between the north and the south. Under the CPA, Abyei was also to hold its own referendum about which country to join.

The AU hopes to dispatch an international peacekeeping force to the region, remove all troops from Abyei and quickly return IDPs to their homes.