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Shearer's high profile a help for refugees

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 14/12/2016

© Martin Hunter/Getty Images A Kiwi couple working with South Sudanese refugees hope former Labour leader David Shearer can bring greater attention to the country's conflict in his new role with the UN.

Mr Shearer, 59, will soon be in charge of the international mission in South Sudan, taking on what Foreign Minister Murray McCully has described as the toughest peacekeeping role in the world.

And aid workers Tim and Helen Manso, who help refugees on the Uganda and South Sudan border with support group Tutapona, say his high profile is badly needed to reach out to New Zealanders.

"In situations like the one in South Sudan, the New Zealand public may feel powerless" Mr Manson said.

"But there are humanitarian organisations who are helping to deal with the fall-out of this crisis who need what Kiwis can give."

Political rivalry between South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and his former deputy Riek Machar, a Nuer, led to civil war in 2013 that has often followed ethnic lines.

Fighting between 2013 and 2015 displaced 2.2 million people and the violence has continued since.

Mr Manson said refugees were still arriving by the hundreds to camps run by his group, often with just the clothes on their backs and having witnessed their closest family members being killed.

"When they see our staff they often collapse from exhaustion and from the trauma they've experienced," he said

Mr Shearer enters his South Sudan role having worked for the UN in danger zones before and after making his last speech in parliament on Tuesday.

Prior to entering politics, he ran large-scale humanitarian operations in areas such as Iraq, West Bank and Gaza, Afghanistan, Somalia and Rwanda.

He returned to New Zealand in 2009 and led the Labour Party from 2011 to 2013.

Current Labour leader Andrew Little praised Mr Shearer for the "experience and knowledge and understanding about international affairs" he brought to his parliamentary service.

"He remains, I think, the best foreign affairs minister we will never have," he said.

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