UNHCR to open new refugee camp in South Sudan's Unity State

Briefing Notes, 22 January 2013

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 22 January 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In South Sudan's Unity State, UNHCR is set to open a new refugee camp in the coming weeks. This will help us to manage further inflows of Sudanese refugees and to decongest the existing settlement in Yida, where essential services are overstretched.

Together with the South Sudanese government we have agreed to locate the new camp at Ajuong, a forested area of red sandy soil with good terrain, water resources, and plenty of space. Ajuong is located in the border county of Pariang. We have received assurances from the national authorities that the location is safe.

Refugee leaders and UNHCR have been working jointly to assess the suitability of the new site. After a "go and see visit" organized for members of the refugee community, refugees determined that the site is suitable for them. The black cotton soil in the area could be used for agriculture by the refugee population. Local communities in the area have also reacted positively to the proposal.

In addition to Ajuong, which will eventually hold 20,000 refugees, UNHCR is planning to open other camps in Unity State in northern South Sudan. The new camps could eventually hold an estimated 110,000 refugees.

New arrivals from Southern Kordofan in Sudan will be given priority in Ajuong, which is expected to begin receiving refugees in early March. As well as housing newly arrived refugees, we are hoping that many existing refugees in other camps will choose to relocate there. The new site will allow refugees to live in a safe environment where better conditions exist for self-reliance and livelihoods assistance.

Currently, Yida, which holds 61,000 people, is the largest refugee location in South Sudan. However the Yida site presents major problems in large part because it is totally cut-off during the six months of the rainy season, posing serious hygiene and health risks. Last year the World Food Programme had to fly in 2,500 metric tons of food at high cost while UNHCR airlifted thousands of tons of essential relief items such as buckets, plastic sheets, and medicines.

The close proximity of Yida from a contested border area with Sudan also poses security problems, raising concerns about the safety of refugees and the civilian character of the site.

Currently, some 300 refugees are arriving in South Sudan every day. While the situation is fluid, as many as 60,000 more could arrive over the next five to six months during the course of the dry season.

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