Abyei is a tormented piece of land, locked on the border between Sudan and South Sudan.
“The box” as insiders call it, has been violently contested since South Sudan split from the north in 2011. There is oil here, which the governments of both countries desire to possess.
There is no government in Abyei, no legal justice system and no police force. When South Sudan gained independence, the governments of Khartoum and Juba failed to agree on the border division, leaving Abyei’s status unresolved.
A United Nations peacekeeping mission – the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) – has monitored the situation here since 2011.
When South Sudan seceded, most of greater Sudan’s oil fields went with it. One of these, known as Difra oil field, remains disputed inside the Abyei box.
Despite agreeing to a demilitarised Abyei, the Sudanese government keeps armed “oil police” guarding the site.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir promised to give four percent of oil sales from Difra to the people of Abyei. Bashir’s condition was that this money could only be distributed by a local administration. But no functioning local administration exists and political dialogue at every level has collapsed. Consequently, the government of Sudan keeps all Difra oil revenue for itself.
Abyei is also ethnically contested. It is claimed by a southern sub-tribe – the Ngok-Dinka – who raise livestock and live inside the box. They held a unilateral referendum in 2013, voting to join South Sudan, but this has never been recognised.
The Misseriya – northern Arab nomads – also lay claim to Abyei. This group of people migrate south into the box from Sudan for half the year seeking water and pasture for their cattle.
Cattle raids, killings and revenge attacks are frequent and brutal. Misseriya have been know to abduct Ngok-Dinka children.
Due to insecurity, humanitarian agencies operating from the south cannot implement aid projects in territory occupied by groups aligned with the north, leaving most of Abyei crumbling, neglected, and its population forgotten.