It has been 14 months since the women's rights organisation Ru'ya had its offices ransacked and records destroyed in the wake of the attacks by the Sudanese military on Kadugli, the capital of the state of South Kordofan. Ru’ya’s staff fled to Khartoum where many of them were harassed and faced security threats.
A few months later, they were forced to flee again, this time outside the country. Since then, they have been working to resume their work in support of communities in and from South Kordofan. Having lost their registration as a non-governmental organization in Sudan, Ru’ya has now been registered as Vision Association in the newly independent country of South Sudan, and has been reconnecting with displaced and refugee groups from South Kordofan. Working in the Yida camp where tens of thousands of refugees are now living, they have been documenting the atrocities committed by the government of Sudan against its own citizens in yet another war targeting the Nuba people of South Kordofan, and in their fact finding report 'Juba and Yida refugee camp visit' they describe the dire situation the Nuba refugees now face as they struggle to access food, water, livelihood, health and education in their battle to survive.
The catastrophic humanitarian situation facing the Nuba Mountains refugees in South Sudan and those displaced in Sudan has elicited relatively little attention in the international media, and near total cover up and denial in Sudanese state media. The Sudanese government has banned international aid and development organizations from entering and operating in the conflict zones and has prohibited the setting-up of camps for internally displaced populations. Few organizations have had access to the populations in the war zones and Ru’ya’s report represents the first needs assessment to be carried out by an indigenous Sudanese organization in Yida camp.
The report provides testimony about the destruction and massive displacement caused by the systematic aerial bombardment waged by the Sudan Armed Forces on villages in the Nuba Mountains. The attacks targeted civilians as well as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Thirty entire villages were forced to flee the war and cross the border to seek refuge in South Sudan. 3,097 unaccompanied children have come to Yida, out of which 818 are girls. Many of them have lost their parents in the ongoing war or have been separated from their parents during the fighting. The number of refugees arriving at Yida and other refugees camps in South Sudan is still growing daily. There are no income-generating activities or means of earning a livelihood in the camp.
The staff of Ru’ya have themselves become refugees working to rebuild their lives and continue their mission against enormous odds. Refugees in the Yida camp told Zeinab Blandia, the Executive Director of Ru’ya that “if nothing else and even if you were unable to bring any material aid and only brought yourselves, that is enormous moral support and invigorates us. It shows us that we are not forgotten and that someone out there cares.”
Many refugees from South Kordofan fled to Juba, the capital of South Sudan and are trying to start-over there. The women refugees have established social solidarity funds where the women pool the little hard-earned resources they have to contribute weekly to a rotational fund that goes to help the members of the fund. Some use the funds to buy a bed, a mattress or perhaps some cooking utensils, as they try to slowly rebuild their lives after having lost everything.
Sadly, the attention of the outside world to the plight of people in South Kordofan and other places of conflict is often limited to the few minutes it takes the media to report on a catastrophic humanitarian situation or wrangling in the Security Council over the wording of a politically negotiated resolution. In between, life happens and it is local actors who are affected by these man-made disasters who primarily take charge of finding whatever means possible to meet their basic needs. Their important initiatives towards self-help and critical efforts for ensuring the survival and sustenance of their communities in times of war are overshadowed by the media focus on the actions and inactions of international actors.
Nuba families living in Khartoum, El-Obeid and other major cities in which refugees have gathered, have opened their homes to receive them and people are taking care of one another and sharing the little they have. On average a family is hosting 40-50 people in a home of 300 square meters or so. Indigenous organizations and activists from South Kordofan have started an Alliance for the Support of the Displaced from South Kordofan in Khartoum State, to coordinate aid mobilization and distribution efforts. The Alliance created different taskforce groups that targeted help from businesses, the Nuba community and endowed philanthropists. Together they are supporting thousands of families who have fled to the cities with food supplies and help provide small capital for displaced women to start some income-generating activities like tea and falafel (ta‘miya) selling and provided funds for renting some houses in affordable neighbourhoods to host the displaced. Women have taken up cleaning jobs where they could to support their families.
Jalila Khamis Kuku is a primary school teacher and rights activist from the Nuba Mountains. She is paying the price for speaking out about the horrific humanitarian situation caused by the government's bombardment and attacks against civilians in the Nuba Mountains. Jalila was hosting over 21 displaced people in her house, while her own son was missing in South Kordofan.
Her outspokenness about the atrocities which she calls a 'premeditated military strategy to ethnically cleanse the Nuba people' and her call for peace and humanitarian assistance to the people of South Kordofan, led to her arrest in March this year and prolonged imprisonment without trial. According to Girifna Jalila is currently facing accusations that undermining the constitution; co-operating with an enemy state; spying; illegal use of military uniform; and unauthorized training. Under these charges the maximum penalty is death and the minimum penalty is two years detention with a fine and confiscation of property. The national security and intelligence services (NISS) has prevented lawyers working on the case from accessing information, and did not announce the location and time of her trial which it said was supposed to take place on August 23rd, but never did so. The announcement by NISS was designed to mislead Sudanese civil society, activists and Jalila's supporters.
The work of activists like Jalila Khamis and the countless acts of solidarity and critical self-help initiatives are the missing link to understanding how communities persevere and survive when the help from international agencies fails to reach the afflicted. Such local activists and organizations are literally the lifeline to hundreds of thousands of people affected by the war in South Kordofan and in neighbouring Blue Nile. They are the first responders to crises and they are still there when things get tough and the internationals need to evacuate because of security risks or politics.
Activists like Jalila Khamis and organisations like Ru'ya are calling on the warring parties and the international community to stop the war and work on a peaceful resolution to the conflict, and they are demanding assistance to the war-affected populations.
They need our attention and our support.