Dangerous to Stay, Dangerous to Move – the Plight of Refugees in Yida

New arrivals crowd together living in makeshift shelter at the Yida refugee camp along the border with North Sudan July 4, 2012 in Yida, South Sudan. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

New arrivals crowd together living in makeshift shelter at the Yida refugee camp along the border with North Sudan July 4, 2012 in Yida, South Sudan. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

By Alex Neve, Amnesty International Canada’s Secretary General and Khairunissa Dhala, South Sudan Researcher

It’s been nine months since we last visited the Yida Refugee Camp in South Sudan and returning now it’s amazing what has changed – it’s also deeply troubling what hasn’t.

Over the past year and a half this camp has been the destination of refugees fleeing massive human rights violations and a humanitarian crisis in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan state.

When we were here in April, there were just over 20,000 refugees at Yida but hundreds more were arriving every day.


Refugees in Turkey: Unsafe Harbor

This year is the Sixtieth Anniversary of one of the landmarks of human rights, the 1951 Refugees Convention.  In 1967, a protocol amended the convention, removing both time and geographic restrictions to the convention.  Taken as a whole, this document serves as one of the most important safeguards to the rights of refugees within international law.  It is an anniversary well worth celebrating.

Turkey’s status within the convention, however, is something of an oddity.  Although it ratified both the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol, it did so with an important reservation: it did not accept the erasure of regional exceptions in the 1967, ratifying the protocol with “an exception” that it would continue to only accept refugees from the Council of Europe.

The result is that Turkey, a country of over seventy million people and a major destination for refugees and migrants, accepts, according to Amnesty International – Turkey, only a small handful of refugees. Refugees from outside Europe – from Sub-Saharan Africa, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Iran, and elsewhere – can only hope to achieve temporary residence while the UNHCR works to find them permanent sanctuary elsewhere.


Four days to more deportations from Europe to Iraq

On Wednesday 60 Iraqis were forcibly returned to Baghdad from the United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands. Next Wednesday more asylum seekers will be flown back to a city where, according to the UNHCR, their lives will be in danger. Please take action now to stop these deportations!

Displaced Iraqis, whether inside or outside Iraq, are continuing to face great difficulties. The following short documentaries, created by Refugees International, show the dire circumstances under which Iraqi refugees live.

Khaled’s Story

Dispossessed: Iraq’s Squatter Settlements

Iraqi Refugees: The View from Syria

Human Rights Flashpoints–September 9, 2009

Sudan – Deadly Attacks in the South
Recent ethnic clashes in southern Sudan have killed at least 25 people and displaced dozens of civilians in Upper Nile State since Friday. Violence has been escalating recently, as women and children are increasingly targeted by both tribal militias and the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

The World Health Organization (WHO) also warned today that conflict-affected areas of southern Sudan, including Ezo County in Western Equatoria State where the LRA has been active recently, are facing a high risk of epidemics. WHO cites damaged health facilities, displaced health workers and the difficulty of accessing health facilities as contributing factors to this increasing risk for epidemics. Attacks in recent weeks have caused forced around 80,000 people to flee their homes.

In a separate development, Reuters reports that the NGO Global Witness claims that they have found serious discrepancies in reports of Sudan’s oil revenues, meaning that the Sudanese government may been underpaying the south by hundreds of millions of dollars.  However, government officials denied all accusations made in the report and claimed to the BCC that the south was represented in all state bodies that dealt with oil.

Must Reads


The violent clashes are different to the traditional  ‘cattle rustling’ that normally occurs each year. Women and children, usually spared in this fighting, are now deliberately targeted and the number of deaths are higher than the number of wounded… The intention is to attack a village and to kill. The result is a population living in total fear, with significant humanitarian and medical needs – Jonathan Whittall, MSF Head of Mission in southern Sudan, September 3, 2009.

Abatement of violence and intertribal reconciliation in the south are vital to the forthcoming elections in 2010 and the subsequent referendum in 2011 – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, September 6, 2009.  

Yemen – No End to the Violence
Clashes between government troops and rebel groups in Northern Yemen are ongoing and putting the lives of many civilians at risk. Displaced people in and around the city of Saada are trapped in the war zone, unable to leave and without access to humanitarian aid. Those who are able to leave the area have no choice but to use mined roads.

According to the BBC, a truce between the government and rebels which was agreed to on Friday, primarily to allow civilians to flee from the war zone, collapsed just a few hours later. Both sides blame the other for the continuing violence.

Meanwhile, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is waiting for security clearances in order to open a humanitarian corridor that would allow them to gain access through Saudi Arabia to displaced people in need of tents and other aid. The UN estimates that about 35,000 have been displaced by the fighting in the past three weeks alone.

Must Reads


Heavy fighting between Al Houthi forces and government troops in and around Saada city in northern Yemen continues with utter disregard for the safety and well being of the civilian population – Andrej Mahecic, spokesman of the UNHCR, September 8, 2009 

The children of Yemen need urgent assistance. We cannot fail them – Sigrid Kaag, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, September 8, 2009

Coming Up

  • September 7-8: Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit in Kinshasa, DRC.
  • September 8: Amnesty International releases new briefing on Chad, which uses satellite images to document housing demolitions in N’Djamena. 
  • September 8: Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya meets with members of the OAS in Washington, DC.
  • September 8: Head of UNHCR begins five-day trip to North Africa to visit refugees from Western Sahara.
  • September 8: Inauguration of President-elect Malam Bacai Sanha in Guinea Bissau.
  • September 10: Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders due to resume UN-sponsored peace talks.
  • Week of September 14: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
  • September 15: 64th session of the UN General Assembly opens.

Juliette Rousselot contributed to this post.

Human Rights Flashpoints is a weekly column about countries at risk of escalating human rights violations and is brought to you by AIUSA’s Crisis Prevention and Response team.

Forced to Leave Home

Bloggers Unite

Every day across the world people make the difficult decision to leave their homes. War, persecution, environmental disaster and poverty are just some of the reasons why a person might feel that they have to leave their family, community or country.

Refugees leave their country because they have no other choice and fear for their own life or safety or that of their family. Refugees also flee their country when their government will not or cannot protect them from serious human rights abuses.

Right now, as you read this, millions of people around the world have fled and are waiting to begin their lives again. Tens of thousands of Zimbabwean refugees in South Africa wonder if today is the day their food rations will run out. Hundreds of thousands of Burmese refugees in Thailand worry that today is the day they will succumb to illness without medical attention. A quarter of a million Colombian refugees in Ecuador fear that today is the day they will be sent back to face the violence in their home country.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the main agency mandated to provide protection and humanitarian services to those fleeing persecution, estimates there are almost 10 million refugees around the world. They have fled political and religious persecution, been caught up in ethnic conflict, and subjected to violence because of their sexual orientation. There are many reasons that people become refugees, but only a few ways to obtain the protection they so desperately need. International agencies and local organizations do their best to assist everyone, but caring for the world’s most vulnerable is a daunting task.

Amnesty International USA advocates for the rights of asylum-seekers in the United States, and for the humane and dignified treatment of refugees and migrants worldwide. As violations of human rights continue and the number of fleeing people rises, we must all raise our voices to protect the persecuted.

Tensions in DRC Remain High

The situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo remains fragile, after rebel forces and local militia clashed north of Goma. More than 250,000 people have been displaced by the recent fighting and the humanitarian situation remains catastrophic. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is currently trying to find out what happened to the 50,000 people that were previously housed in the area. “As we feared, three internal displacement sites run by UNHCR near the town of Rutshuru in eastern DRC (…) have been destroyed and emptied,” David Benthu Nthengwe, UNHCR external relations officer, told IRIN “We and our partners are now trying to determine the whereabouts of tens of thousands of IDPs from the camps.”

The fighting in eastern DRC represents only a recent spike in violence in a country plagued by years of war. One of the underlying causes of the conflict is the ongoing impunity for perpetrators of the most egregious human rights violations, including sexual violence against women and recruitment of child soldiers. Despite having the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world, the question remains: what else can the international community do to bring lasting peace to the people of the DRC?