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The Outcome of War for Refugees in South Sudan

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

Zehra Abrar Global Rights Defenders Blog | Posted June 12, 2023


Surpassing the 2-million-mark, South Sudan is the largest refugee crisis in Africa, and is the third largest refugee crisis in the world following Syria and Afghanistan. As a result of increasing violence and deteriorating conditions, the situation in South Sudan is a full-blown humanitarian crisis.[1]

Quick Facts:[1]

  • 4.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance from South Sudan including refugees, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and asylum-seekers

  • 63% of South Sudanese refugees are under the age of 18

  • There are 2.3 million people displaced refugees from South Sudan

Conflict in Sudan

Hundreds of people have died and thousands have been wounded since the deadly conflict broke out in Sudan’s capital Khartoum. The conflict has entered its seventh week, with clashes between two factions of the military regime, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and Paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).[1] In 5 weeks of conflict, 1.4 million people have been forced to flee their homes that includes 1 million who have been internally displaced. As of May 26, a further 345,000 had fled Sudan into neighbouring countries including Egypt, Chad, and Ethiopia, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).[2]

Relation with South Sudan

South Sudan, a landlocked nation, achieved its independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011, following the signing of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005 and the subsequent referendum.[3] However, since its inception, South Sudan has grappled with severe economic challenges and widespread political instability, leading to a state of continuous civil unrest. This ongoing turmoil has rendered the country highly unstable. The current instability in Sudan is linked to its history with Sudan, which lost one-third of its territory and three-fourths of its oil reserves.[4] There are four types of conflicts that still affect the Sudans: oil reserves, border territories, South Sudan itself, and an internal conflict between two factions of the military regime in Sudan.[5]

Migration to South Sudan

The conflicts in South Sudan and Sudan have emerged as significant drivers of migration, causing a profound impact across neighbouring countries. Merely two years after South Sudan gained independence in 2011, a conflict erupted in 2013, triggering a complex and perilous situation characterized by armed strife, economic downturn, disease outbreaks, and widespread hunger. Consequently, an overwhelming number of South Sudanese, nearly 2.3 million individuals, have sought refuge in neighboring nations, while an additional 1.87 million remain internally displaced within South Sudan due to relentless violent conflicts throughout the country.[6] This dire situation now stands as Africa's largest refugee crisis and the world's third-largest.

The migration from South Sudan before the recent conflict in Sudan primarily stemmed from three key factors. First and foremost, the civil war that erupted in 2013, primarily involving the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) loyal to President Salva Kiir and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in-opposition (SPLM-IO) led by Vice President Riek Machar, has been a dominant driver. This prolonged crisis has compelled around 810,000 individuals to flee South Sudan since its independence.[7]

In addition, the environmental conditions in the southern region, marked by poverty and destitution, have contributed to the decision of many people to leave their homeland. Limited access to basic services such as healthcare and education has resulted in internal displacement and widespread migration. According to estimates by the UNHCR, out of South Sudan's total population of 8 million people, 7.8 million individuals are believed to be grappling with severe food insecurity, including 43,000 people facing famine.[8]

The composition of those fleeing South Sudan underscores the vulnerability of women and children, with over 80% of migrants belonging to this demographic. Shockingly, children constitute 63% of the total number of South Sudanese refugees, many of whom are undertaking the arduous journey alone, exposed to violent assaults, sexual abuse, and heartbreaking separation from their families.[9]

Effect of Conflict on South Sudan

The situation in South Sudan is currently worsened by the recent conflict in Sudan. The armed conflict that erupted in Sudan's capital on 15 April 2023 between two factions of the army has led to an influx of migrants into South Sudan. Among these migrants are South Sudanese returnees, as well as refugees from neighbouring countries who had previously sought refuge in Sudan.

Reports indicate that around 70,000 South Sudanese refugees have crossed back into South Sudan, along with a smaller number of Sudanese (1,829) and migrants and refugees from other countries (2,423).[10] This influx of people poses significant challenges for South Sudan's administration, particularly in terms of logistics and transport linkages between the oilfields and Port Sudan.

Despite the conflict in Sudan, analysts suggest that neither party involved has an interest in disrupting the flow of oil exports from South Sudan through Sudan. Disruption of these shipments would not only halt the country's oil exportation but also lead to an economic collapse, creating a ripple effect of civil war in neighboring countries.[11]

Furthermore, it is important to note that there are currently around 800,000 South Sudanese refugees residing in Sudan. If a large-scale return of refugees from Sudan to South Sudan occurs, it could make it more challenging to provide life-saving assistance to the more than 2 million South Sudanese who have already been displaced due to civil unrest.[12]

In summary, the conflict in Sudan has exacerbated the existing challenges in South Sudan, leading to an increased influx of migrants and refugees. The potential disruption of oil flows due to the conflict poses significant economic risks, while the return of refugees from Sudan could strain resources for providing assistance to those in need.

Migration Crisis and Humanitarian Response

The migration crisis has posed a significant challenge to the humanitarian response in South Sudan and its neighboring countries. It is an ongoing struggle to provide assistance and meet the basic needs of the displaced population, leaving a gap in the support system for those who have left their homes. Numerous international and local organizations are actively working on the ground to assist those fleeing and promote peace in the region, aiming to address the root causes of displacement and prevent further forced migrations.

How can we help?

Donate to these organizations which are working on the ground helping refugees fleeing the ongoing conflict.

  1. South Sudan Women Empowerment Network is one of the few local organizations that is women-based and is helping women including IDPs and refugees in South Sudan through advocacy, capacity building, and livelihood support.[13]

  2. Helping Hands for South Sudan is another local organization started by a Sudanese-American who returned to South Sudan to provide education to refugee children and displaced South Sudanese.[14]

  3. Apart from the local organizations, international organizations such as International Organization for Migration IOM, UNHCR, and other humanitarian organizations are working to advance international cooperation on migration-related issues, to aid in the search for workable solutions to migration problems, and to provide humanitarian aid to migrants in need, including refugees and internally displaced people.[15]

[1] UNHCR. South Sudan Refugee Crisis. <> [1] Interview: Life in Sudan, While a Conflict Rages, Human Rights Watch (Human Rights Watch, 2023). [2] “Sudan: Clashes between SAF and RSF - Flash Update No. 14 (28 May 2023) [EN/AR] - Sudan | ReliefWeb”, (28 May 2023), online: <>. [3] The Comprehensive Peace Agreement marked the end of two decades of civil conflict in Sudan and was the culmination of peace negotiations to find a comprehensive, lasting solution to the conflict that had divided north and south Sudan. “South Sudan”, online: Migrants & Refugees Section <>. [4] Marina Ottaway & Mai El-Sadany, “Sudan: From Conflict to Conflict. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace” (2012) 16 May 2012. [5] “Former foes Sudan and South Sudan find friendship – DW – 11/15/2019”, online: <>. [6] “South Sudan Refugee Crisis Explained”, online: <>. [7] “Civil War in South Sudan”, online: Global Conflict Tracker <>. [8] the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, “Sudan Conflict Straining Fragility of Its Neighbors”, online: Africa Center for Strategic Studies <>. [9] “South Sudan: UN report highlights widespread sexual violence against women and girls in conflict, fueled by systemic impunity”, online: OHCHR <>. [10] Studies, supra note 9. [11] John Mukum Mbaku, “Sudan’s conflict will have a ripple effect in an unstable region - and across the world”, (5 May 2023), online: The Conversation <>. [12] Reuters, “Sudan - What worries neighbors, the US and others”, Reuters (21 April 2023), online: <>. [13] “South Sudan Women Empowerment Network -”, online: South Sudan Women Empowerment Network <>. [14] Helping Hands for South Sudan, “Helping Hands for South Sudan”, online: Helping Hands for South Sudan <>. [15] “IOM South Sudan”, online: <>.

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1 Comment

Jun 15, 2023

Well noted.

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