Renewed fighting drives hundreds of Sudanese refugees across border

Briefing Notes, 25 September 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 25 September 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Air and ground attacks in Sudan's Southern Kordofan state are causing a renewed influx to South Sudan of about 100 refugees a day. Arriving in the border town of Yida, in Unity State, refugees are in poor health and without any belongings.

Some individuals tell us they have come to set up a shelter in Yida Camp and then will return to Sudan to retrieve their families. They said they were fleeing not only the terror of the bombings and the presence of ground troops, but also an acute lack of food.

We anticipate an increased influx into Yida as the rains subside and if fighting further escalates in Southern Kordofan. As arrivals pick up, there could be up to 80,000 refugees by the end of the year.

The remote Yida camp currently hosts 64,229 refugees, so additional sites for new arrivals will be required to avoid congestion and associated health risks.

As tension is building up again in border areas, we remain extremely concerned about the safety of the refugees in Yida settlement which is located in close proximity to the border. The presence of a refugee settlement in highly militarized border areas close to a conflict zone hampers efforts to preserve the civilian and humanitarian character of asylum. The safety of the refugees in this location cannot be guaranteed. UNHCR continues to work with the refugee community to advocate for the relocation of the settlement to a safer location as soon as roads re-open.

UNHCR has been supporting South Sudanese authorities in their efforts to ensure there are no arms or combatants in the camp and that the practice of recruitment is prevented. Recently, however, a search for weapons in the settlement has led to incidents of arbitrary detention and abuse of refugees. Together with our partners, we have been monitoring the situation and intervening to secure the release of those detained.

Meanwhile in South Sudan's Upper Nile state, we fear that main roads leading to camps hosting some 105,000 refugees could be cut off by heavy rains and flooding.

At a time where intensive health hygiene and nutrition campaigns initiated in July start to show positive impact, humanitarian agencies are faced with new challenges. As mortality rates were brought back below emergency thresholds in all camps and malnutrition rates are improving sharply, an outbreak of hepatitis E is a cause of serious concern and needs to be contained quickly.

Many roads are already flooded and may soon become impassible. For example, there are areas along the main supply routes where stretches of up to three kilometers are under 50 cm of water.

So far, the local population in the town of Bunj has been the most affected and rapid relief interventions are being put in place. We are particularly concerned about refugees in Doro camp, adjacent to Bunj town where some 75 families have been so far affected by the flood in the past few days. They have been relocated within the camps to dry areas, and targeted assistance has been provided such as blankets to children under the age of 5. The other camps of Jammam, Yusuf Batil and Gendrassa are not affected at the moment.

Over the weekend, humanitarian workers delivered 14 tons of much needed nutrition commodities to Doro camp using tractors, instead of trucks. Doro is one of four camps in Upper Nile, a region largely affected by seasonal rains and which may sustain further environmental damage should floodwaters coming from Ethiopian highlands reach South Sudan this year.

While the end of the rainy season in about six weeks will lead to improved access to and conditions in the refugee settlements, UNHCR and partners also anticipate new refugee influxes from Blue Nile state of Sudan. It is also feared that will arrive in a more advance state of malnutrition as conditions across the border worsen. This again will represent a major challenge for the humanitarian community.

South Sudan currently hosts some 201,000 refugees, more than 170,000 reside in Unity and Upper Niles states.

In South Sudan, UNHCR needs US$186 million to assist the Sudanese refugees fleeing from South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. We have so far received US$71 million, or 38 percent of our requirements, mostly from governments. We are also appealing for private donor support to the South Sudan emergency.

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