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eBay founder donates US$500,000 for UNHCR's South Sudan operation

News Stories, 5 September 2012

© E. Milette
Pam & Pierre. The couple have long supported efforts to bring lasting peace to the Sudan region.

WASHINGTON, DC, United States, September 5 (UNHCR) eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam have donated US$500,000 to UNHCR's emergency operation for tens of thousands of refugees in South Sudan.

Pam Omidyar said she and her husband, who created the eBay auction site in 1995, had been inspired to help on a personal level after hearing about a visit in July to UNHCR-run refugee camps in South Sudan by three members of The Elders, a grouping of respected international figures dedicated to promoting peace and human rights.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, both Nobel Peace Prize laureates, together with Mary Robinson, a former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, met Sudanese refugees during a visit to Yusuf Batil Camp in South Sudan's Upper Nile state. The distinguished visitors said they had come to show solidarity with the forcibly displaced.

Pam Omidyar said the couple, who have long supported efforts to bring peace to the region, were also compelled to act "at a humanitarian level" by the displacement crisis over the past year in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile regions.

"Our donation to UNHCR is intended to provide urgent assistance to alleviate human suffering, while we continue to address the root causes of the forced displacement of people," she said. The Omidyars hope their donation will spur further giving from individuals, corporations and foundations.

"Gifts like this have a direct and immediate impact on the lives of refugees on the ground. We are tremendously grateful for the consistent support from the Omidyars. They can be assured that their gift will help save the lives of some of the most vulnerable in South Sudan," said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR's representative in the United States.

Since June last year, tens of thousands of people have fled fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Sudan People's Liberation Army-North and sought sanctuary in South Sudan, which only gained independence last year. Their needs are great and UNHCR staff are working around-the-clock to provide protection and assistance. The health of children is a particular concern, with 15 per cent of those under five in Yusuf Batil camp suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

The refugee agency has called on donors to provide US$219 for its Sudan emergency operation this year. To date, only a third of this amount has been pledged, leaving UNHCR with serious funding challenges.

The Omidyars are known for their philanthropy. The couple have contributed more than US$1 billion to causes ranging from poverty alleviation to human rights to disaster relief.

To learn more about their work, go to www.omidyargroup.com

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Ahead of South Sudan's landmark January 9, 2011 referendum on independence, tens of thousands of southern Sudanese in the North packed their belongings and made the long trek south. UNHCR set up way stations at key points along the route to provide food and shelter to the travellers during their arduous journey. Several reports of rapes and attacks on travellers reinforced the need for these reception centres, where women, children and people living with disabilities can spend the night. UNHCR has made contingency plans in the event of mass displacement after the vote, including the stockpiling of shelter and basic provisions for up to 50,000 people.

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

South Sudan: Preparing for Long-Awaited Returns

The signing of a peace agreement between the Sudanese government and the army of the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement on 9 January, 2005, ended 21 years of civil war and signaled a new era for southern Sudan. For some 4.5 million uprooted Sudanese – 500,000 refugees and 4 million internally displaced people – it means a chance to finally return home.

In preparation, UNHCR and partner agencies have undertaken, in various areas of South Sudan, the enormous task of starting to build some basic infrastructure and services which either were destroyed during the war or simply had never existed. Alongside other UN agencies and NGOs, UNHCR is also putting into place a wide range of programmes to help returnees re-establish their lives.

These programs include road construction, the building of schools and health facilities, as well as developing small income generation programmes to promote self-reliance.

South Sudan: Preparing for Long-Awaited Returns

South Sudan: The Long Trip Home

When the peace treaty that ended 21 years of civil war between north and south Sudan was signed in 2005, some 223,000 Sudanese refugees were living in Uganda – the largest group of Sudanese displaced to a neighbouring country.

Despite South Sudan's lack of basic infrastructure, such as schools, hospitals and roads, many Sudanese were eager to go home. In May 2006, the UN refugee agency's Uganda office launched an assisted repatriation programme for Sudanese refugees. The returnees were given a repatriation package, including blankets, sleeping mats, plastic sheets, mosquito nets, water buckets, kitchen sets, jerry cans, soap, seeds and tools, before being transported from the transit centres to their home villages. As of mid-2008, some 60,000 Sudanese living in Uganda had been helped back home.

As of the beginning of May 2008, some 275,000 Sudanese refugees had returned to South Sudan from surrounding countries, including Uganda, Ethiopia, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya. Some 125,000 returned with UNHCR assistance.

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