Sudan's Nuba refugees stuck on border, lack aid
Publisher: AFP, Agence France Presse
Author: Hannah McNeish
Story date: 16/11/2011
Language: English

At sunset in Yida refugee camp, the dust settles around the scraps of cloth where market vendors have laid out tiny circles of coffee and spices, hoping to sell enough to buy some food.

Bilal Issa Johar is one of around 25,000 people who fled Sudan's South Kordofan state and sought refuge across the border, in the newly independent south, after fighting erupted in June and his village near Kadugli was bombed.

But then, last Thursday, an Antonov aircraft flew in from the north and dropped five bombs in and around Yida, according to the United Nations, terrifying the residents and causing international outrage.

A large circle forms around Johar, as he speaks for the people in Yida, indigenous non-Arab Nuba who fled from the north and now feel abandoned by the international community, as hunger sets in and services are lacking.

"We are given little food here. All the people here complain about the food because it is not enough... Some of them, they still have nothing," he said.

The former teacher brought enough with him to carve out a small existence in the market, but others came empty handed.

"Some of them, they went back because of this lack of sorghum," Johar added.

Claims of refugees heading back to the war zone echo around the camp.

"We are the same as the refugees in Ethiopia. The UN, they are doing a good job there... But here they forget us," said Hussein Al-Gumbulwa, head of the refugee camp.

Up to 30,000 people have fled across the border into Ethiopia from Sudan's Blue Nile state, after conflict spread from nearby South Kordofan in September.

In both states, Sudan's ruling National Congress Party has been battling militiamen who fought alongside the former southern rebels during their decades-long conflict with the north.

Al-Gumbulwa said the three kilograms (6.6 pounds) of sorghum per person handed out each week "is not enough for a human being to keep living," while around 300 new refugees are arriving daily.

Others left the camp after last week's air strike, which scattered 614 children into the bush, according to educational coordinators there.

Gumbulwa said 200 boys and some families had gone back to South Kordofan, after promises of a school and food in Yida failed to materialise.

On Tuesday, the United Nations flew in a mobile school and 12 tons of food, the equivalent of one day's ration, while three more World Food Programme flights arrived on Wednesday, the first UN aid since the bombing.

Only Samaritan's Purse, which has run the camp since July, and Non-Violent Peace Force aid agencies have kept international staff on the ground.

At Yida's only clinic, people crowd around three dark rooms waiting for medical treatment, even though the shelves are all but empty.

"Many of the drugs like anti-malarial and antibiotics we are lacking," said Chaluma Hassan Ialo, a Sudanese nurse for aid agency Care International, which was bringing in medicines for the World Health Organisation before the bombing.

"Very soon we are going to stop because there is no drug. And the organisations we are working with have not come since the bombing has taken place... up to now," she said.

As another nurse shakes out the last multivitamins from a large pot to hand to a waiting mother, Ialo says food shortages have caused a worrying increase in anaemia and child malnutrition and the clinic is dealing with about 400 people a day.

Samaritan's Purse had appealed for help in October, warning that supplies were running out, and the first UN food delivery had only just taken off when the bombs struck.

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir has fuelled security fears at Yida by claiming the camp is housing rebels, which aid agencies there is no evidence of, while bomber planes are frequently sighted overhead.

The UN High Commission for Refugees has discussed moving refugees further south to Nyeel, away from the volatile border, but closer to rebel southern militias that threaten Unity state with attacks on civilian areas and the laying of mines.

This week, the SPLA found two anti-tank mines at Tor Junction, on the way to Nyeel.

Some of the refugees are keen to start planting crops, to be able to provide for themselves, but Nuba elders have already deemed the proposed destination unsafe.

"We brought our people here to escape danger... If we are forced to go there, we will go back to (the) Nuba Mountains," said one.

Refugees Daily
Refugees Global Press Review
Compiled by Media Relations and Public Information Service, UNHCR
For UNHCR Internal Distribution