South Sudan commemorates World Refugee Day
20 June 2013 – World Refugee Day was observed in a number of state capitals across South Sudan today with a series of speeches and traditional dances and a long-distance race led by the country's top marathon runner.
"Refugees face tremendous challenges which, with our partners, we are trying our best to address," said Mildred Ouma, an official with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the Upper Nile State capital Malakal. "Today we ... celebrate the resilience they have (shown)."
An estimate issued by UNHCR earlier this month put the number of refugees currently living inside South Sudan at over 223,000, and more than 85 per cent of them are believed to have come from Sudan. Another 190,500 South Sudanese have been internally displaced by conflict and other forms of violence, according to a Global Trends report released by UNHCR in May.
"Figures give only a glimpse of this enormous human tragedy," said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in his World Refugee Day message, which was commemorated this year under the theme, "One family torn apart by war is too many".
"Every day, conflict tears apart the lives of thousands of families," said Mr. Ban. "Children suffer the most. Nearly half of all refugees are below age 18, and a growing number are fleeing on their own".
In the Jonglei state capital Bor, the director of the state government's Relief and Rehabilitation Commission Gabriel Deng Ajak hailed President Salva Kiir Mayardit's recent decision to establish a South Sudan Commission for Refugee Affairs.
UNHCR Protection Officer Jane Mulata praised South Sudanese authorities for setting aside space in various settlements for refugee families and encouraging them to raise crops, thereby reducing their dependence on humanitarian aid.
"The (Relief and Rehabilitation) Commission is now working very tirelessly to send its staff to some refugee locations so that they can take up positions in guiding the work of refugee protection in the country," said Ms. Mulata. "This and many other initiatives undertaken by the country are very encouraging."
In Juba, an event led by UNHCR and the Government of South Sudan to mark World Refugee Day featured traditional dances and the sale of handicrafts from various communities. The former refugee Guor Marial who ran in last year's Summer Olympics marathon in London spearheaded a four-kilometre race in the streets of the national capital.
Mr. Marial recently returned to South Sudan with support from UNHCR after spending the previous 20 years living abroad in Egypt and the United States.
Refugees living in a camp in the Upper Nile State county of Maban also performed traditional dances drawn from their respective homelands.