UNHCR alarmed at air raid on vulnerable refugees in South Sudan

The air attack earlier this week on Elfoj left at least one Sudanese boy injured and 14 other refugees missing in South Sudan.

Sudanese refugees at a relocation site in South Sudan's Unity State  © UNHCR/C.Mballa

JUBA, South Sudan, January 24 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency on Tuesday condemned an air attack earlier this week that left at least one Sudanese boy injured and 14 other refugees missing in South Sudan.

"Bombing of civilian areas must be condemned in the strongest terms," Mireille Girard, UNHCR's representative in South Sudan, said of Monday's attack, which targeted Elfoj in South Sudan's Upper Nile state.

There were two strikes. In the first one, several bombs fell at the refugee transit site, located less than 10 kilometres from the border with Sudan. At the time, about 5,000 refugees were at the site from where movement to new settlements takes place on a daily basis.

UNHCR and International Organization for Migration (IOM) teams with 14 trucks were supervising relocation operations when the first wave of bombings took place. Refugees jumped out of the trucks and scattered. Agency staff also had to seek safety.

After the bombings, agency staff rapidly mobilized the refugees. The convoy left for a safe location, some 70 kms from the border, with 1,140 individuals on board. This brought to almost 11,500 the total number of refugees moved from Elfoj since relocation operations started on January 6. About 4,000 more refugees relocated spontaneously from Elfoj.

Girard said the attack showed the hazards that refugees continue to face during the flight. "We are racing against time to move the refugees away from volatile border areas to safety before the seasonal rains begin and roads become impassable," she stressed.

There have been previous attacks on Sudanese refugees in border areas. Last November, New Gufa - an entry point for refugees in Maban County, Upper Nile state - was bombed over several days. Yida refugee settlement, in Unity state near the border with Sudan's South Kordofan state, was also hit by air raids.

Overall, more than 20,000 refugees have relocated spontaneously or with the assistance of the international community from border areas to new settlements in Upper Nile and Unity states. Last week, UNHCR and its partners began relocating Sudanese refugees from Yida.

In total, more than 78,000 people have fled Sudan's South Kordofan and Blue Nile states since August last year. Of this number, more than 54,000 are in South Sudan's Upper Nile state and 24,000 in Unity state.

By Teresa Ongaro/Vivian Tan