Jacksonville is home to thousands of refugees who have fled horrific conflicts, including over 150 “Lost Boys” from South Sudan who over a quarter century ago walked across a country the size of Texas to flee horrific violence.
We know some of them who attended our school, the University of North Florida. But today, war rages again in South Sudan and the children are again at risk.
We have just returned from a class trip to Washington to urge action to stem the crisis.
Just seven years ago, South Sudan gained its hard-won independence from Sudan and became the youngest nation in the world. Tragically, the country is plagued by conflict and an ongoing humanitarian crisis fueled by rampant corruption that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced 4.4 million people.
Half the country’s people — six million — do not have enough to eat and 50,000 are at risk of famine.
Widespread sexual violence, food insecurity, child soldier recruitment and constant violence targeted at civilians cannot be ignored by the international community, especially not by the country instrumental in realizing South Sudan’s independence, the United States.
Furthermore, key U.S. allies in the region — Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya — are struggling to sustain the millions of South Sudanese refugees who have crossed the borders.
We have the power to save hundreds of thousands of lives! Who will advocate for the South Sudanese people who are left voiceless by the conflict? Will we rise to protect those most vulnerable in South Sudan? Our class believes that our communities and government must lead.
Given the strong, bipartisan support in the U.S. for South Sudan’s creation under the Bush and Obama administrations, and given the dire situation today, the U.S. must take immediate action to end the crisis and restore democracy and rule of law. Our class urged officials to take several immediate steps.
We recommend the United States immediately pressure the international community to fund the $2 billion dollar gap in refugee funding urgently needed to care for the 2.4 million refugees who have fled to neighboring countries.
At this September’s United Nations General Assembly, President Donald Trump should hold a summit with regional leaders to galvanize action. Inside the country, people risk their lives each day to reach lifesaving aid. To improve the delivery of urgent lifesaving humanitarian assistance to the 2 million more displaced inside the country, the U.S. should provide two-way radios to non-governmental organizations on the ground to better coordinate delivery of aid.
Our diplomatic efforts in the search for peace must be intensified. The Senate should act to immediately confirm the nomination of Ambassador Thomas Hushek as U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan. Additionally, we recommend appointing a new U.S. Special Envoy specifically for South Sudan to further the peace process with international and regional partners.
Intensive diplomatic engagement with regional partners is also necessary to encourage them to fulfill the commitment to provide a 4,000-strong Regional Protection Force to ensure civilians and aid workers can safely move outside of just the capital Juba.
We also recommend expanding sanctions to entire networks of individuals who hinder the peace process through corruption. We ask the U.S. to make public the people who committed war crimes, as well as the arms suppliers to South Sudan so the international community can name and shame them.
We propose using the hashtag #SouthSudanIsWatching to raise awareness of the problems in South Sudan just as #Kony2012 successfully raised awareness of the atrocities that Joseph Kony committed against civilians in Uganda.
If students like us and senior government officials in Florida show overwhelming support by using this hashtag, we could start a movement that would demand further action. We urge the president to join us and to lead a worldwide campaign to make resolving the conflict in South Sudan an international priority.
Change in South Sudan is dependent on the grass roots actions taken by communities like ours. We must expose the corruption and stop the crimes against humanity taking place in South Sudan. Join the conversation #SouthSudanIsWatching to save lives!