Ongoing violence in South Sudan is projected to result in “Africa’s largest refugee crisis since the mid-1990s,” the United Nations announced on Feb. 1.

“The human cost of the South Sudan conflict has reached epic proportions,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “If the war doesn’t stop, refugee numbers will rise from 2.5 [million] to 3 million in 2018. The conflict is purging South Sudan of the people who should be the greatest resource of a young nation. They should be building the country, not fleeing it.”

Edward Dima, pastor of First Baptist Church in Kajo-Keji, South Sudan, and president of the Baptist Convention of South Sudan, told via email, that “Uganda alone hosts over 1.8 million refugees from South Sudan.”

He is currently living in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, and regularly visits and ministers to those living in refugee camps.

The total number of refugees from South Sudan living in surrounding nations “might shoot up to over 3 million in my personal judgment,” Dima said, citing “a huge number of refugees fleeing South Sudan to Uganda” in late 2017 and a continued influx so far in 2018.

The U.S. State Department announced on Feb. 2 an arms embargo, “calling on South Sudan’s neighbors to implement similar arms restrictions and urging the U.N. Security Council to support a global embargo on the country,” according to an Associated Press report.

“It is one thing to say it, but another thing to implement it,” Dima said of the U.S. announcement.

He called it “a waste of time” and said “it is not going to be effective in any way” unless the U.S. also provides support to monitor South Sudan’s borders for weapons flowing into the country.

South Sudan responded to the embargo by recalling its ambassador to the U.S. on Feb. 3.

It is the world’s youngest nation, gaining independence in 2011, and has experienced intermittent conflict for the past six years.

The current violence is the result of a power struggle between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), also known as SPLA-IG (in government), loyal to the nation’s president, Salva Kiir, and the SPLA In Opposition (SPLA-IO), loyal to the former vice president, Riek Machar.

In addition to conflict causing children to become internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees, the warring factions have forced children to serve as soldiers and there has been an increase in child abductions and trafficking as desperation grows.

“Child abduction is always in areas of cattle raids particularly between a tribe called Murle in Pibor. When this people go to raid cattle of the Nuer and Dinka, they end up stealing children as well,” Dima explained. “I pray for peace to be restored in the country to stamp out some of those practices.”

Several ceasefires have been negotiated, including a December 2017 agreement, but all have been short-lived with numerous violations of the terms by both sides.

Dima was skeptical of the latest ceasefire agreement, explaining that “since day one … nobody kept it, and the government has really been on offensive and the rebels on defensive.”

Peace talks began again on Monday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and are scheduled to continue through mid-February.

“You, collectively, by your personal and political interests are responsible for the nightmare your own people are going through. You have had numerous opportunities to change directions. You have repeatedly failed to do so,” Workneh Gebeyehu, Ethiopia’s foreign minister, told South Sudan’s leaders gathered to discuss a permanent end to hostilities. “This really is the very last chance for you to accept your responsibilities and take the necessary actions to ensure South Sudanese peace and prosperity.”

Dima said that no one is sure “if anything good will yield out of” this latest ceasefire or the ongoing peace talks, lamenting, “There is no willingness of our leadership in Juba to bring peace.”

Editor’s note: Previous articles related to South Sudan can be found here. Pictures from South Sudan provided by Dima are available here. A 2015 video interview with Dima can be viewed here.

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