In an effort to draw attention to the plight of refugees in South Sudan, British actress Keira Knightley recently visited the war-torn nation. The country, which this week commemorated the third anniversary of its independence from Sudan, is currently in the midst of a devastating civil war.
The 29-year-old actress joined Oxfam on a humanitarian mission to the country, where she toured a refugee camp and met with those displaced by the ongoing violence. The impoverished refugees must contend with malaria, hunger, malnutrition, water-borne diseases, sexual violence and a lack of clean water. Approximately 1.5 million people were forced to abandon their homes in the wake of the widespread internecine violence. At least 10,000 people have died since the start of the civil war in December of last year.
Knightley described the situation on the ground as hellish, adding that she had never experienced the extreme levels of palpable terror that refugees go through on a daily basis. Refugees are the same as people anywhere in the world, the 29-year-old stressed, in that they want to live their lives in safety and security. Instead, she recounted, they wait powerlessly, wives mourning their slain husbands while children play in the sewage of the camps.
The actress described the refugees as having nothing, and in desperate need of help. Upon returning from her visit to South Sudan, Kiera Knightley’s message was a simple yet undeniably poignant one: “Give. Give. Give. Please.”
Her call for help coincided with the US decision to send an additional $22 million in humanitarian aid to South Sudanese refugees. The money will go toward providing water, food, household items, healthcare, job training, violence prevention programs, and child protection initiatives. The total amount of American aid to the country now comes to over $456 million in this fiscal year alone.
The civil war began after South Sudanese President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of instigating a coup. On Wednesday, Kiir urged the rebel forces to resume talks with the government. Machar responded by saying that he was open to dialogue with the regime but warned that his troops would target the country’s oil installations if violence resumed and the government began to use oil revenues for purchasing weapons. Machar and Kiir last met in May in the Ethiopian capital city of Addis Ababa, where they agreed to a ceasefire. Peace talks have since ground to a halt. Ethnic tensions have largely dictated the battle lines, with Kiir’s Dinka community fighting against the Nuer group led by Machar. The rebel leader recently called on the Intergovernmental Agency for Development (IGAD) to restrict South Sudan’s access to both ports and oil pipelines. IGAD, which consists of eight East African countries, is brokering the talks between the rival factions.
On Thursday, the European Union announced that it was placing travel bans and asset freezes on two South Sudanese military leaders that allegedly violated the ceasefire. The sanctions will come into effect on Friday, at which point the names of the two leaders will be released. The US has imposed similarly punitive measures against leaders on both sides of the conflict.
While Kiera Knightley’s visit to the country has brought the plight of its people even further into the international spotlight, the civil war in South Sudan continues to rages on. The humanitarian aid sent by the West and Knightley’s efforts in raising both funds and awareness are positive steps in ending the suffering of the displaced, dismayed and distraught victims of the war.
By Yitzchak Besser