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Deteriorating security in parts of South Sudan hampers refugee returns

News Stories, 24 March 2009

© UNHCR/E.Denholm
A UNHCR convoy carrying Sudanese refugees stops for a break on the way to South Sudan.

JUBA, Sudan, March 24 (UNHCR) The deteriorating security situation in several parts of South Sudan is hampering the repatriation of hundreds of Sudanese refugees from Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia.

Several towns in Central and Eastern Equatoria states were last week paralysed by coordinated blockades organized by war veterans from the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) who had not been paid their benefits for five months. The violent protests disrupted life in the towns of Yei, Nimule and Kapoeta for several days.

These disturbances have affected the movement of returnees and humanitarian workers, forcing UNHCR to temporarily suspend or halt five repatriation convoys carrying some 920 returnees from Arua and Adjumani in Uganda to Yei in Central Equatoria and to Magwi County in Eastern Equatoria.

It also affected convoys from Kakuma in Kenya to Budi, Lopa and Lafon in Eastern Equatoria, and to Juba in Central Equatoria and to Twic in the Warrab region. One route from Adjumani to Nimule was accessible on Monday for the return of 389 refugees.

After meetings last Thursday and Friday with Silva Kiir, president of the autonomous government of South Sudan, the SPLA veterans lifted their blockade on Yei. However, protests are continuing in Kapoeta and the town centre is still occupied by the war veterans. Though the highway linking the South Sudan capital, Juba, to Uganda via the border town of Nimule has reopened, the Kapoeta-Narus road remains closed.

A UNHCR team has been held up at the Narus crossing point on the Kenya-Sudan border since last Thursday, prevented from leaving by the SPLA, the former rebel force which signed a comprehensive peace accord with the Sudanese government in January 2005.

In February, UNHCR suspended the repatriation of southern Sudanese refugees from Ethiopia following clashes between the SPLA and Sudanese armed forces in Malakal, which left more than 50 people dead and led to the looting of UN warehouses, and the subsequent relocation of some UN and humanitarian aid agency staff.

UNHCR is also deeply concern about the continuing conflict between the Nuer and Murle ethnic groups in the Jonglei region that has so far claimed the lives of some 750 people and caused significant displacement. The fighting, which was sparked by cattle-rustling raids in Pibor County, has now spread to Akobo and Wanding.

Last week, the governor of the Jonglei region convened an emergency meeting with UN agencies to coordinate a humanitarian response to the victims of the Nuer and Murle clashes.

The number of Sudanese refugees who voluntarily repatriated to South Sudan and Blue Nile state with the help of UNHCR since December 2005 has now reached 154,070 people.

An additional 156,830 refugees spontaneously returned to South Sudan and Blue Nile from neighbouring countries since the signature of the peace agreement in 2005. Refugees have been returning to South Sudan and Blue Nile from the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya and Uganda.

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UNHCR works with the country of origin and host countries to help refugees return home.

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It is one of the most inhospitable environments UNHCR has ever had to work in. Vast distances, extremely poor road conditions, scorching daytime temperatures, sandstorms, the scarcity of vegetation and firewood, and severe shortages of drinkable water have been major challenges since the beginning of the operation. Now, heavy seasonal rains are falling, cutting off the few usable roads, flooding areas where refugees had set up makeshift shelters, and delaying the delivery of relief supplies.

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Battling the Elements in Chad

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Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

Chad: Relocation from the Border to Refugee Camps

Since fighting broke out in Sudan's western region of Darfur last year, more than 110,000 Sudanese refugees have fled into Chad. They are scattered along a 600-km stretch of desert borderland under a scorching sun during the day and freezing temperatures during the night.

Access to these refugees in this inhospitable region is difficult. Staff of the UN refugee agency drive for days to locate them. Bombing in the border zone and cross-border raids by militia from Sudan put the refugees at risk and underscore the urgent need to move them to camps in the interior. In addition, the approach of the rainy season in May will make the sandy roads impassable. Aid workers are racing against time in an attempt bring emergency relief to these refugees.

Chad: Relocation from the Border to Refugee Camps

South Sudan: Food Security Play video

South Sudan: Food Security

Jacob is plowing 20 kilometers far from his own home town, Bor, after having to abandon it due to the ongoing fighting in South Sudan. Now in Mingkaman camp,as a displaced person, this land he plows is all he has after losing farm and cattle back home
South Sudan: Flooding Disaster Play video

South Sudan: Flooding Disaster

Nearly 100,000 people are living in cramped, overcrowded camps in Mingkaman, in Rivers State, South Sudan. Whenever it rains, tents become flooded causing already fragile sanitation conditions to worsen.
South Sudan: Rainy SeasonPlay video

South Sudan: Rainy Season

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