Border insecurity increasing concerns for refugees' safety in Yida, South Sudan

Briefing Notes, 27 March 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 27 March 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Recurrent fighting in the disputed Lake Jau area is fueling concerns about the safety of Sudanese refugees in nearby Yida settlement. Our concerns are heightened by clashes reported yesterday between the national armies of Sudan and South Sudan in Lake Jau and other border areas.

UNHCR is in regular discussion with refugee leaders about the urgent need to relocate in order to avoid civilian casualties among a population that has already endured a great deal of trauma.

Together with various partners, UNHCR is providing basic assistance to more than 16,000 refugees who settled in Yida after fleeing violence in the Nuba Mountains. We provide relief support to vulnerable families. In February we carried out a full registration of the population as well as a nutrition survey and a comprehensive measles vaccination campaign for refugee children. The World Food Programme distributes standard food rations and the food pipeline is operating well. MSF and CARE run health services while Samaritan's Purse and the ICRC provide clean water and sanitation facilities.

UNHCR considers that Yida refugee settlement is not safe for long-term stay due to its proximity to the volatile border zone. South Sudan authorities at central and local level are also urging refugee leaders to relocate, in line with the provisions of the 1969 OAU (now AU) Convention on Refugees. Article 2 stipulates that "for reasons of security, countries of asylum shall, as far as possible, settle refugees at a reasonable distance from the frontier of their country of origin."

Refugee leaders say they prefer to stay close to their homes in the Nuba Mountains. Also, they are accustomed to the Yida landscape. But security hazards are a grim reality. We cannot ignore the fact that Yida is near a heavily militarized zone with recurrent fighting and bombing. Yida itself came under aerial attack in November last year, causing refugees to flee into the bush. In December, artillery shells fell close to the camp. We fear that future rounds of border violence could cost refugees' lives.

So far, some 2,300 refugees have relocated southwards to safer sites in Nyeel and Pariang. We are providing them with food, water, shelter, sanitation and health care. Refugee leaders agreed to relocate children, recognising their needs for safety and formal education. 1,500 secondary school students have registered to receive instruction in Pariang. They are accompanied by refugee teachers and caretakers. 450 local and refugee children are currently attending primary school together in Nyeel, where the authorities have provided land for cultivation. Seeds and tools have been distributed to refugee families for farming.

Meanwhile, in Upper Nile state, where the refugee influx is continuing, relocation from border zones is a routine matter. 86,000 Sudanese refugees fleeing attacks in Blue Nile state have relocated to the safety of formal sites in Doro and Jammam. UNHCR conducts monitoring missions and coordinates with local authorities to find and relocate new arrivals to the settlements, where humanitarian assistance is provided.

In total more than 105,000 Sudanese refugees from Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states are currently enjoying asylum in South Sudan. Another 30,000 refugees fled Blue Nile into Ethiopia.

For further information on these topics, please contact:

  • In Nairobi (UNHCR regional hub): Vivian Tan, mobile: +254 735 337 608

  • In Geneva, Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 3483




UNHCR country pages

South Sudan Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Donate now and help to provide emergency aid to tens of thousands of people fleeing South Sudan to escape violence.

Donate to this crisis

Battling the Elements in Chad

More than 180,000 Sudanese refugees have fled violence in Sudan's Darfur region, crossing the border to the remote desert of eastern Chad.

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.

Despite the enormous environmental challenges, UNHCR has so far managed to establish nine camps and relocate the vast majority of the refugees who are willing to move from the volatile border.

Battling the Elements in Chad

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

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.

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 Crisis: One Year OnPlay video

South Sudan Crisis: One Year On

Uganda: A Father's TroublesPlay video

Uganda: A Father's Troubles

Forty-five-year-old Gabriel fled South Sudan with his wife and children to find safety in the UN compound in Bor. But, in April 2014, his wife was killed when an armed mob forced their way in, and now he is a single father to five children, seeking a better life in Uganda.
South Sudan: Adut's strugglePlay video

South Sudan: Adut's struggle

Thousands in war-torn South Sudan have lost their homes and livelihoods. When seventeen year old Adut lost her parents, she also lost her childhood by taking on the role of mom and dad for her young siblings. But, despite the everyday struggle, she is finding new skills and new hope in exile.