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‘Every day there is news of people dying’: Brisbane South Sudanese community feeling pain of the famine crisis from afar

South Sudanese famine

Displaced: Internally displaced South Sudanese people walk on a road close to the outer perimeter of a United Nations mission on February 16 outside Juba, South Sudan. South Sudan’s Catholic bishops have denounced government and rebel troops for attacking the civilian population and at times operating “scorched-earth” policies in defiance of international law. Photo: CNS/Siegfried Modola, Reuters

FOR Fr Stephen Kumyangi and his Brisbane community the war and famine crisis engulfing South Sudan is deeply personal – they have mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews stuck in the middle of it.

Fr Kumyangi, who is chaplain to Brisbane’s St Bakhita Sudanese Community and associate pastor at Upper Mt Gravatt-Wishart parish, was in Uganda a few weeks ago and visited a refugee camp housing some of the South Sudanese people who had fled the violence in his home country.

Some of his nieces and nephews were there, and he said he “saw the situation for myself”.

Fr Kumyangi said the situation in South Sudan was “very alarming” for the members of the St Bakhita Sudanese Community in Brisbane.

“The killing goes on,” he said.

“Every day there is news of people dying.

“The people are completely desperate.”

On top of the fighting between the rival forces of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army loyal to President Salva Kiir and the SPLA in Opposition backing Riek Machar, the United Nations last month declared parts of South Sudan were in famine.

The UN said 3.4 million people who had been displaced and separated from their families as a result of the fighting and famine.

It warned hundreds of thousands of people were facing death by starvation.

A further one million people are on the brink of a famine, and the number of people affected by the food shortage was expected to rise to 5.5 million by July if nothing is done to ease the severity and spread of the crisis, according to UN estimates.

Fr Kumyangi said the reports of what was happening in South Sudan were “absolutely upsetting” for members of the Sudanese community in Brisbane.

“The situation is far worse than what’s reported,” he said.

“That’s the reality on the ground.

“What is being reported is just like a drop in the ocean.

“We pray every Sunday – we always remember the deceased ones.

“We always remember those who are orphaned and the number of women and children.

“It’s really very disgusting and upsetting to hear (of what’s happening in their homeland).”

Father Stephen Kumyangi

Fr Stephen Kumyangi: “The situation is far worse than what’s reported.”

Fr Kumyangi said the Sudanese people living in Australia “have nothing more to do other than to support their relatives living back home and pray for them – given that they are refugees themselves”.

“(Community) members are sending money back to family and friends but this is nothing compared to the refugees in other countries and the displaced people,” he said.

“The contribution they collect is very meagre.

“They in a way also help other displaced people who are behind the zones of the rebels (and) who have no one to help them.”

Fr Kumyangi said most of the relatives and friends of St Bakhita community members left behind in South Sudan were now living in refugee camps in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Congo and Sudan.

However, the situation for those in the camps was worrying.

“The people are living in terrible conditions,” Fr Kumyangi said after visiting his relatives in a camp in Uganda.

“The health facilities are not there and there’s no proper sanitation.

“There’s a scarcity of water.

“Women go for hours and hours to get water and sometimes there’s no water in the tanks so they have to wait – sometimes for six hours.

“Most of the people are sleeping on the ground, except for the few who are able to provide for themselves.

“It’s difficult to get beds.”

Fr Kumyangi said disease was spreading in the poor conditions.

He said he maintained contact with Fr George Hume who is the liaison co-ordinator for the Catholic Diocese of Tombura-Yambio based in Kampala, Uganda.

Fr Kumyangi is from the Tombura-Yambio diocese.

Donations can be sent to Fr George Hume, Catholic Diocese of Tombura-Yambio, PO Box 27114, Arua House III, Kampala, Uganda.

Donations can also be made to Caritas Australia’s Africa Emergency Appeal.

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