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.

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