We’ve experienced the tragic impact of displacement first hand as the South Sudanese, the people we’ve served for the last eight years, have been forced from their homes due to renewed war. As the war has escalated over the last nine months, it has become the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world.
When you hear the word refugee, what do you think? Do you see a raft of refugees feeling violence or miles of tents providing temporary shelter? I do. I think of an emergency. I think of starving people needing immediate, emergency aid. But this is only a small piece of the story. In reality, it’s much more complex.
The first myth we’ll tackle is that when we hear the word “refugee,” we only see emergency.
But, does a refugee = emergency?
Between 1978 and 2014, there were 91 crises with more than 5,000 refugees. How many of the 91 crises were resolved within four years? ONE. Just one. Over 80% of refugee crises last 10 years or more.
We’ve seen the impact of protracted conflicts firsthand. South Sudan is caught in a perpetual cycle of conflict, commonly known as a “conflict trap.” For 40 of the last 60 years, the South Sudanese people have been at war. In this current conflict, over 1.6 million have sought refuge outside the country. For some South Sudanese, they are returning to the same refugee camps where they have already spent decades of their lives.
Statistically, given the likelihood that a crisis will last for more than a decade, we must shape our long-term strategy for serving refugees from the beginning.
Here’s what Pastor Kato Everest, a South Sudanese refugee, says: “My entire village left because of the war. What we worked our whole lives to build was lost in a minute. We need knowledge for things that can sustain our families. There is still a hope for people to see the future. There are some people talking about how we can build our lives back. If we could bring them knowledge and encouragement, I think it would help a lot. People have desire to save but need help being effective, they need training.”
So there you have it. Refugee crises are more than emergencies—they’re protracted crises. The South Sudanese refugees need and want support to help rebuild their lives and sustain their families beyond aid. Let’s treat the initial emergency with aid, but also look beyond that initial emergency to have a long-term strategy for a long-term crisis.
And now, on to Myth #2.