UNHCR condemns air attack on refugee camp in South Sudan

News Stories, 11 November 2011

© UNHCR/P.Rulashe
Sudanese refugees at a reception centre.

GENEVA, November 11 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Friday strongly condemned the aerial bombing of a temporary refugee camp in South Sudan sheltering more than 20,000 civilians fleeing from conflict in neighbouring Sudan's Nuba Mountains.

"Two of the bombs fell within the Yida camp, including one close to the school," said UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards. "Fortunately there were no casualties in the camp and we are verifying the situation of surrounding communities," he told journalists in Geneva.

UNHCR had been readying new refugee sites away from the border in Unity state when the incident occurred on Thursday. "We had hoped to begin the relocation of refugees but our efforts have so far been hampered by heavy rains which have made the road to the camp impassable," Edwards explained.

The refugee agency is concerned by the escalating tensions in the border areas between Sudan and South Sudan, where hundreds of thousands of civilians have been uprooted since June as a result of fighting.

There are also reports this week of bombing in New Guffa village of South Sudan's Upper Nile state resulting in civilian casualties. As many as 55,000 civilians originating from the Damazine and Kurmuk areas are said to be moving southwards in Sudan's Blue Nile state. Some of these people are heading to Chali within Blue Nile state.

Others are crossing into New Guffa village, nine kilometres from the border, or Bunj, the capital of Maban county in South Sudan's Upper Nile state. Others may be moving into neighbouring Ethiopia, where more than 30,000 Sudanese have found refuge and are being helped by UNHCR and its partners.

New arrivals in Maban county describe empty villages south of Kurmuk town on the other side of the border. The new arrivals are being registered in Bunj, where UNHCR has a way station as well as a warehouse that holds enough supplies for 15,000 refugees.

UN assessment teams are planning to travel to Maban over the weekend to assess the humanitarian conditions for new arrivals. Meanwhile, local authorities have been identifying temporary reception sites as more arrivals are anticipated amid heightened tensions.

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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.

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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.

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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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