Christians in peril as Sudan and South Sudan head towards war

3,700 people are said to have fled Jau, which lies across the border from Southern Kordofan, since the attacks (AFP/HO Stuart Price).

By Dan Wooding — Originally published in Assist News Service

The threat of an all-out war between Sudan and South Sudan is mounting amid intensifying fighting in the disputed border region, putting Christians in both nations in great danger.

Barnabas Fund, based in the UK says that fierce clashes in the oil-rich territory over the last three weeks have been described as the worst fighting since South Sudan gained independence in July 2011.

The UN Security Council last week expressed its “deep and growing alarm” over the “escalating conflict”, and said that the situation threatened to return the countries to full-scale war.

Sudan, which has been indiscriminately dropping bombs in the border regions and the South for almost a year, said that if Southern troops do not comply with a UN order to withdraw from the Heglig oilfields, Khartoum “will chase them out” and “hit deep inside South Sudan”.

“The tensions threaten a return to the deadly civil war that devastated the South and left more than two million people, mainly Southern Christians, dead,” said a Barnabas Fund spokesperson.

“The independence of South Sudan was meant to herald a new dawn of peace, but a number of serious issues between the two countries remain unresolved, including disputed border territory, oil revenue and citizenship rights.”

Left in limbo
The spokesperson went on to say that the hostility between the two nations has left people of Southern origin, who are mainly Christian and mainly African, in the overwhelmingly Muslim and Arab Republic of Sudan in a state of limbo and increasing danger. They were stripped of their citizenship of Sudan after the South voted to secede in January 2011 and given until April 8 to sort out their papers.

That deadline has now passed, and, treated as foreigners in Sudan, they have been denied work permits, while South Sudan has not yet started issuing identity documents. Thus they have been left without an official nationality.

A deal that would have given citizens of both countries key rights – to live, work and own property – in the other state has stalled, and there is little hope of further progress; a planned summit between the two presidents at the beginning of April was called off because of the violence in the border region.

“Thousands of people are consequently living rough, hundreds of them on wasteland around Khartoum, having had to give up their homes; many do not have the money and resources to transport their families and possessions to South Sudan. Around three-quarters of them are Christians,” said the Barnabas Fund spokesperson.

One community leader said: “We’ve been out of our homes for three months. We’re going to South Sudan, but we need the help of the two governments to return to our country. The people here are very tired. The men have no work, no food; that is our situation.”

Barnabas Fund is helping to meet the practical needs of Christians in both Sudan and South Sudan. We are providing returning refugees with emergency supplies, including sorghum (grain), salt, plastic sheeting for shelters, mosquito nets, blankets, water drums and cooking pots.

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, said: “A return to war would be a tragedy, especially for Christians in both territories who, during the long civil war, were particular targets of Khartoum’s aggression. Christians in Sudan are already suffering greatly as a result of the unresolved tensions between the two countries; many have been left homeless and in great need. The humanitarian situation will only deteriorate as the latest conflict intensifies.”

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