Putting it in Perspective: South Sudanese Independence

Posted by Jenny Fernandez on Thu, Jun 30, 2011 at 12:08 pm

When I started my internship at HIAS, I was sure that I could not possibly become any more excited about or interested in international events. In the past two years I’ve been to Hill hearings, taken classes on international relations and politics, and met with representatives from several different government agencies. However, even though I’ve only been at HIAS for three weeks, I’ve been introduced to an incredibly personal side of international relations through HIAS’ work on behalf of refugees and immigrants. Although I have been interested in the policy side of immigration and refugee work for several years, I am only now getting to meet with people who are affected by these policies. Working with HIAS has allowed me to see how becoming passionate about certain policies and working hard to make them a reality can truly help people.

Last week, I had the privilege of going to a hearing at the U.S. Institute of Peace where the Vice President of Southern Sudan, Riek Machar, was speaking. I sat between a representative from the Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), and a Captain in the U.S. Army. Although I certainly didn’t feel as impressive as they looked, I was pretty sure I was more excited. Mr. Machar spoke to a full room about the status of the independence of Southern Sudan and the work that government agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have done to help ensure independence and peace for South Sudan. Mr. Machar spoke about representing the fledging government and about his past experience leading the rebellion movement for an independent Southern Sudan. He discussed at length the efforts the government has made in preparation of the July 9th declaration of independence, including printing currency and writing a national constitution. He also spoke about the invaluable input agencies such as USAID and the UNHCR have put towards achieving a peaceful separation between North and South Sudan. Mr. Machar spoke solemnly about the thousands of displaced people that remain in Northern Sudan. The government of Southern Sudan has proposed that when the time comes for the country to declare its independence, any Southern Sudanese who wish to stay in the North may stay and become citizens of North Sudan. However, the Khartoum government disagrees and has stated that any Southern citizen will become an illegal worker and will be targeted for deportation. Mr. Machar said that there are about a half million internally displaced peoples (IDPs) already in the North, many of which have come to the South as refugees. Other problems both countries continue to face are the border wars and turf battles between rural towns and communities. Many of these communities are made up of shepherds and farmers, and there are often fights over land and roaming grounds. The North has a history of arming these border towns and using them as local militia. The South, however, wants to implement a strong policy of disarmament, while at the same time ensuring that citizens are not left in dangerous situations. As a result, the Southern Sudanese government has asked the UN and USAID to remain in the region while South Sudan declares its independence. In turn, diplomatic channels will remain open. Mr. Machar was able to make events that happen so far away and that are so different from daily life here in Washington seem so real. I think it is important for people to read the news, listen to what politicians say, and keep up with the world around us – but it is even more important for us to be able to realize that we aren’t just hearing sensationalized versions of events, and that we recognize that there are people out there who are suffering and who are working hard to change the world as we know it. Unfortunately, even in the week since I heard Vice President Machar speak, fighting has gotten worse at the border between Northern and Southern Sudan. Around 60,000 displaced people are at the epicenter of armed militia fighting for border control. Hearing Vice President Machar address the instability plaguing Southern Sudan and witnessing his dedication to rectifying the situation helped me realize that, although we hear mostly about the wars and instability, there are people working tirelessly to solve these problems. It was great to have a speaker like Vice President Riek Machar put such a tense situation in perspective for me. I could understand more directly how people are personally affected by conflicts and appreciate how necessary the work we do at HIAS is. Stay tuned while I continue to find new ways to be more involved and more passionate about the work we do at HIAS throughout the rest of the summer!

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