Monday, November 14, 2011

Samaritan's Purse Refugee Camp bombed

Yida Refugee Camp bombing
(Photos courtesy Samaritan's Purse)

Sudan (MNN) ― The United States condemned Thursday's bombardment of a refugee camp by the Sudanese armed forces of the southern town of Yida.

Ken Isaacs, Samaritan's Purse Vice President of Programs and government Relations, spoke to MNN from the camp via satellite phone. "The World Food Program landed a helicopter with 12 tons of food in it. When the helicopter took off after it was off-loaded, a bomber came over and dropped four bombs on the refugee camp."

Over 23,000 people are living in the camp in the northernmost part of Unity State, after being displaced by fighting across the border in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan State. A team from Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse ministry works there distributing food and other supplies. Samaritan's Purse staff was present along with a handful of UN workers and journalists when the bombing run started.

Four bombs were dropped. One bomb hit the marketplace, and two others fell on the fringe of the camp. Isaacs says, "The fourth one actually fell in the middle of the camp, in a schoolyard that had nearly 300 children in it. It was a miracle that the bomb didn't go off. It hit a big tree limb, probably 10-inches around. It took the tree limb out, and the bomb sat there in the ground halfway through the wall of the grass hut classroom."

All of Samaritan's Purse staff have been accounted for and are safe. There is a report that 12 people died in the attack, but they have not been able to confirm the casualties among the refugees. However, blame for it is landing at the feet of Sudan's Khartoum government. Isaacs explains, "The government of Sudan is the only one with high altitude aircraft like that in this part of the world. It has been a pattern of the government of Sudan, throughout the war with South Sudan, to bomb areas during food distributions."

The violence has been rising steadily and may point to a possible border attack from Sudan. "This has all just started in the last four days, so there's clearly a pattern starting. There is speculation that it's going to get worse." Samaritan's Purse President Franklin Graham, who visited the camp six days before the bombing, called for the world to take action in the immediate aftermath of the most recent attack.
The refugees are stranded in a swampy area in Unity State near the border between South Sudan and Sudan. The camp has been accessible only by plane because the rainy season washed out the roads, making fleeing a moot point.

The largely-Christian South Sudan became independent from the Islamic northern part of the country four months ago. However, as to the question of persecution, Isaacs doesn't think the root issue is religicide. It's more likely motivated by the loss of oil to South Sudan. That doesn't mean there aren't religious overtones. "Clearly, the government of Sudan uses religion to brutalize people and to motivate their fighters to launch attacks."

Where does the Gospel come into play in a scenario like this? As Samaritan's Purse teams work in crisis areas of the world, people often ask, "Why did you come?" The answer is always the same: "We have come to help you in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ."

While Samaritan's Purse's ministry is all about Jesus--first, last, and always, Isaacs says, "Pray for Samaritan's Purse staff. We're the only organization that's working here now. All of the UN people pulled out; the other agencies pulled out. Ten of our staff are still here."

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