• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

UNHCR prepares for refugee influx into South Sudan's Upper Nile state

News Stories, 8 November 2012

© UNHCR/P.Rulashe
An old woman is helped down from a truck that has brought her and 70 other refugees to a camp in South Sudan.

MABAN COUNTY, South Sudan, November 8 (UNHCR) Aneim has just reached South Sudan's newest refugee camp, Gendrassa, after fleeing a devastating mid-October air attack on his village across the border in Sudan's Blue Nile state.

For UNHCR, the arrival of the livestock farmer and his extended family of 11 people was a further sign that floodwaters are receding and people are once again making the journey to safety in South Sudan's Upper Nile state following attacks on their villages. The refugee agency is, accordingly, taking preemptive measures to cope with a likely accelerated influx.

In the last week of October, UNHCR staff registered 72 new arrivals in Gendrassa, mostly women and children. Although small, this was the highest weekly arrival figure since the rainy season began in May and indicated that the numbers were starting to rise with the changing weather pattern. Before, the flooding was simply too deep to cross, but the most desperate are now chancing their luck as the waters start falling.

Mireille Girard, UNHCR's representative in South Sudan, said that many more refugees were likely to cross the border if fighting between the Sudanese armed forces and the Sudan People's Liberation Army-North escalated during the coming dry season, which begins in mid-November. Food shortages would also be a push factor.

She said that UNHCR had started preparing a contingency plan to meet the most pressing needs of up to 30,000 new refugee arrivals in Maban County between now and the end of the year. It covers key areas such as shelter, health care, food rations and non-food items such as plastic sheeting, blankets, sleeping mats, hygiene sets and kitchen items.

UNHCR currently works in four refugee camps in Upper Nile state's Maban County, including Gendrassa, which hosts some 14,300 refugees and is the only one that has not yet reached full capacity. It has room for another 5,000 refugees. Girard said the refugee agency was in negotiations with the local authorities to open new transit centres and camps in other counties.

The only potential new camp site under consideration in Maban County is located at a 400-hectare site and could host between 20,000 and 30,000 refugees. Other locations under consideration, all outside Maban, are Melut, Beneshowa and Longichok.

Unlike the other camps in Maban, the proposed new site sits on a base of pebbles, soil and clay, which makes it easier to instal drainage systems for washing areas and latrines. It is also in an area of shrubs, grassland and trees that can be used for construction and firewood, but this needs to be carefully managed to avoid friction with host communities and to protect natural resources and the environment.

Harmony is vital and UNHCR and other aid groups have established forums where refugees and host communities are being engaged in initiatives to avert or resolve differences over land, resources and even the livestock that refugees bring with them and which graze on community land. Locals in this very remote and undeveloped area of South Sudan have been told that they will be able to access facilities in the new camp such as schools and health centres and possibly find employment.

If given the go ahead, UNHCR experts will search for underground water sources. In addition, water will be trucked to the proposed new site from a well situated 12 kilometres away from Gendrassa.

UNHCR has, meanwhile, stepped up border monitoring activities at several entry points. In the contingency planning, new transit centres may be established near border entry points. People will stay at these sites until they can be transported on to a camp.

The refugee agency has also embarked on an exercise to clear the backlog of people waiting to be registered as refugees. This will allow UNHCR's registration and protection staff to devote their time to any major new influx in the coming months.

A key UNHCR partner, the World Food Programme, is also preparing for the future. WFP has pre-positioned food for 15,000 new arrivals in Jamam camp, which is scheduled to become a transit centre. Extra stocks of corn soya blend have been pre-positioned to meet the nutritional requirements of infants and young children with moderate to acute malnutrition.

The farmer Aneim believes UNHCR is doing the right thing, predicting that refugees will soon start streaming across the border into Maban County from their hiding places in the mountains and forests of Blue Nile state.

"They are suffering terribly. But here they will sleep the night without worrying about exploding bombs," he asserted. "Even if you have lost everything as I have this camp has given me the opportunity and the confidence to begin my life again."

By Pumla Rulashe in Maban, South Sudan




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

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

Bonga camp is located in the troubled Gambella region of western Ethiopia. But it remains untouched by the ethnic conflicts that have torn nearby Gambella town and Fugnido camp in the last year.

For Bonga's 17,000 Sudanese refugees, life goes on despite rumblings in the region. Refugee children continue with school and play while their parents make ends meet by supplementing UNHCR assistance with self-reliance projects.

Cultural life is not forgotten, with tribal ceremonies by the Uduk majority. Other ethnic communities – Shuluks, Nubas and Equatorians – are welcome too, judging by how well hundreds of newcomers have settled in after their transfer from Fugnido camp in late 2002.

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

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

South Sudan: Preparing for Long-Awaited Returns

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.

In preparation, UNHCR and partner agencies have undertaken, in various areas of South Sudan, the enormous task of starting to build some basic infrastructure and services which either were destroyed during the war or simply had never existed. Alongside other UN agencies and NGOs, UNHCR is also putting into place a wide range of programmes to help returnees re-establish their lives.

These programs include road construction, the building of schools and health facilities, as well as developing small income generation programmes to promote self-reliance.

South Sudan: Preparing for Long-Awaited Returns

South Sudan: A Long Walk in Search of Safety Play video

South Sudan: A Long Walk in Search of Safety

Years of fighting between Sudan and rebel forces have sent more than 240,000 people fleeing to neighbouring South Sudan, a country embroiled in its own conflict. After weeks on foot, Amal Bakith and her five children are settling in at Ajoung Thok refugee camp where they receive food, shelter, access to education and land.
South Sudan: Four Years On from IndependencePlay video

South Sudan: Four Years On from Independence

In 2011 the people of South Sudan celebrated their independence. Four years later, the world's newest nation is one of the world's worst humanitarian situations. In December 2013, conflict erupted displacing 2 million people including more than 600,000 refugees. South Sudanese has fled to Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan. The crisis has especially impacted the next generation of South Sudanese, 70% of those displaced are children.
South Sudan Crisis: One Year OnPlay video

South Sudan Crisis: One Year On