Growing insecurity triggers new displacement in and from South Sudan

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 8 January 2016, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is increasingly concerned at recent growing insecurity in South Sudan's southern state of Western Equatoria and its serious impact on the civilian population.

Localized fighting between armed groups and government soldiers and an apparent breakdown in law and order are being reported in and near Yambio some 300 kilometres west of Juba. Sporadic gunfire is commonplace, and there has also been an increase in crime involving car-jackings, attacks on government property, looting of civilian homes and sexual assaults reportedly by armed youth.

A recent UN mission to Yambio found nearly 200 houses burnt down in the neighbourhood of Ikpiro and several hundred others looted. People have taken refuge in the town centre or moved to nearby villages. UN estimates put the number of people displaced in Western Equatoria's Yambia and Tambura counties at 15,000 since the start of December.

The violence is also driving people to flee their homes and head hundreds of kilometres to the southeast into neighbouring Uganda where 500 refugees have been registered every day since the beginning of this week - a quadrupling in recent numbers. As well as the violence, refugees cite food insecurity due to failed crops as a reason for their flight.

Last month, UNHCR reported that fighting between local groups and the South Sudan army in Western Equatoria had displaced over 4,000 people into a remote region of north-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. As of 6 January, the number of registered new arrivals, most in the area around Dungu, had risen to 6,181 comprising 4,164 South Sudan nationals and 2,017 Congolese who had previously been living as refugees in South Sudan. The influx has continued into 2016 so far albeit at a much reduced rate. The government refugee agency has recorded 268 in the past week.

Overall, these are alarming developments for a region of South Sudan that has until now been relatively stable. The implications for humanitarian access to an estimated 7,400 refugees living in Western Equatoria are very worrying. UNHCR is in contact with government authorities regarding the security of those refugees and has agreed on additional UNMISS force protection through increased patrols as well as support to relocate refugees to safer areas.

The conflict that erupted in South Sudan in December 2013 has produced one of the world's largest humanitarian emergencies with 2.3 million people forced to flee their homes, 650,000 of these across borders as refugees and 1.65 million displaced inside the country.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Nairobi, Teresa Ongaro on mobile +254 735 337 608
  • In Juba, Rocco Nuri on mobile +211 927 725 535
  • In Kampala, Charles Yaxley on mobile +256 (0) 776 720 045
  • In Kinshasa, Andreas Kirchhof on mobile +243 81 700 9484
  • In Geneva, Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120