Driven from his land by conflict, farmer Singira Mirihewari travelled for 18 hours to tell leaders negotiating peace in South Sudan what millions of refugees like him need.

“We have suffered. We have been worst affected. The country is practically empty. Hardly anybody can stay there,” he said after arriving in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for the revived peace talks.

Since conflict erupted in South Sudan in 2013, some 2.5 million people have fled extreme violence and rights abuses, and experienced unimaginable suffering as refugees. Nearly 2 million people remain internally displaced inside the world’s youngest country.

On the International Day of Peace on 21 September, the theme ‘The Right to Peace’ was particularly poignant for Singira and his fellow South Sudanese.

“If the leaders of South Sudan want us to go back, they have to first start by showing us that the peace is serious.”

Singira was among 16 refugee representatives who travelled from the DRC, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Sudan to share their views, hopes and expectations with leaders of political factions, who negotiated a peace agreement in Khartoum earlier this month.

South Sudanese farmer Singira Mirihewari, right, travelled to Khartoum in Sudan to speak at peace negotiations. ©UNHCR/K. von Schroeder 

Known as the ‘Revitalised Peace Agreement,’ the accord promises the rights of refugees to return in safety and dignity to South Sudan, and to be given physical, legal and psychological protection.

The signed agreement guarantees their right to return to their places of origin or to live in areas of their choice. It also protects their rights to citizenship and documentation. But some of the refugees who travelled to Khartoum are worried about South Sudan’s ability to deliver on those promises.

Peter Kuany Garang was a chief in his community in South Sudan when fighting broke out in 2014. Amid indiscriminate killing and maiming, he led 24,000 of his people on foot to the safety of White Nile State in neighbouring Sudan, where he has been a refugee ever since.

“I explained to them that no refugee will go back to South Sudan until things are working,” Peter said.

“I came today. I listened. I heard. We heard about the deal. Refugees want peace. Refugees want to go back to South Sudan.

A South Sudanese refugee family collects their daily clean water ration in Khor Al Waral refugee settlement in White Nile State, Sudan. Australia for ©UNHCR/ M. Nureldin Abdallah

“I am a bit sceptical about how committed they are to peace. But we are willing to try and see. If this peace deal works, we can go back to tomorrow.”

Refugees like Peter who live in crowded camps in White Nile State face many challenges, including severe shortages of clean water.

In some camps, the clean water ration has dropped to just 7.5 litres per person, per day for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene – the same amount of water used in a single toilet flush here in Australia. This has left many refugees with no choice but to collect extra water from the polluted White Nile River. Without urgent action, the threat of a waterborne disease outbreak remains high. Young children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to diarrhoea, typhoid and cholera.

While South Sudanese families long for peace and hope for the day when they can safely return home, UNHCR will continue to provide them with protection, shelter, healthcare and clean water. But with current funding for the South Sudanese crisis response at just 13%, the help of compassionate and generous donors is needed now more than ever.

You can give the gift of clean water and sanitation to vulnerable refugee families in Sudan
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Recently arrived South Sudanese refugees, majority of them are women and children, wait to be registered © UNHCR/Jiro Ose

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