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Refugees International President Calls on U.S. Congress to Protect Sudanese Civilians

Washington, DC -- Refugees International President Michel Gabaudan urged the U.S. to take four concrete steps to protect Sudanese civilians in the aftermath of January’s referendum at a hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. House of Representatives today. In the hearing, titled “Refugees and IDPs in Sudan: The Crisis Continues,” Gabaudan called on the U.S. to ensure the protection of minority communities, press the governments of north and south Sudan to develop a formal agreement on citizenship criteria, help the humanitarian community prepare for any new displacement, and maintain a long-term commitment to the Government of Southern Sudan to help them rebuild after decades of war.

“Not only is the stability of Sudan at stake, but that of its neighbors, the wider region and the sum total of decades of U.S. investment,” said Mr. Gabaudan, one of five witnesses to testify to Chairman McGovern (D-MA), Chairman Wolf (R-VA) and other members of the Commission. “Continued U.S. support before and after the referendum could save millions of civilian lives and is clearly in the strategic interest of the United States.”

The U.S. played a major role in brokering the current peace agreement that ended 21 years of civil war and has brought some measure of stability to Sudan. It is also Sudan’s largest donor, and according to USAID, the U.S. has spent $6 billion in assistance to Sudan since 2005.

Refugees International has conducted three field missions to Sudan in 2010 and will undertake a fourth in October. The organization has repeatedly expressed concern over the rights and physical safety of southern Sudanese living in the north and northerners in the south. In June, RI staff members met with and interviewed displaced southern Sudanese near Khartoum, many of whom expressed serious concern about becoming the targets of violence should the south choose to separate. In his testimony, Mr. Gabaudan urged U.S. policy makers to put necessary pressure on the governments of north and south Sudan to ensure that both the physical safety and the citizenship rights of minority groups are protected, whatever the outcome of the referendum.

“Progress needs to be made on the issue of citizenship, in order to avoid potentially massive new displacement,” Gabaudan said. “If the estimated 1.5 to 2 million southerners that are currently in the north suddenly pick up and move south en masse, the international community will be hard pressed to respond to the humanitarian catastrophe.”

Mr. Gabaudan also pressed for greater support to international aid agencies who can promptly respond in the event of significant violence and displacement. “We have seen in places like the Balkans that tensions are generated in any country that splits, but with advance planning we could minimize the chaos that tends to characterize the humanitarian response to sudden emergencies like the Haiti earthquake,” said Mr. Gabaudan. “If at the eleventh hour we fail to do all we can, it will be the Sudanese people who suffer the most. And after more than two decades of war, they have already suffered enough.”

Refugees International is a 31-year-old Washington, DC-based organization that advocates to end refugee crises and receives no government or UN funding. Read Michel Gabaudan’s complete testimony here.

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For Immediate Release: September 30, 2010
Contact: Megan Fowler; +1-202-828-0110 x214
[email protected]