UNHCR working to cope with thousands of people fleeing South Sudan and to offer more service in the country

Briefing Notes, 7 January 2014

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 7 January 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

More than 23,000 South Sudanese refugees have already crossed into Uganda as a result of the fighting that broke out more than two weeks ago on December 15. They are now crossing at a rate of up to 2,500 people a day.

We are grateful to the government of Uganda for recognizing all of them as a group as refugees. But UNHCR and our partners are struggling to provide enough water and adequate sanitation at transit centres and at reception centres in the Arua and Adjumani districts of the West Nile region, northwestern Uganda.

As of Monday, 23,546 South Sudanese refugees had arrived in Uganda.

These new arrivals compound difficulties for our Uganda operation because we are still seeing refugees arriving from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We still have 8,000 new Congolese arrivals at three reception centres in western Uganda. So, our staff and our supplies are stretched.

Meanwhile, smaller but growing numbers of South Sudanese refugees are also fleeing to other neighbouring countries. More than 5,300 refugees have been registered in Ethiopia though the number is likely higher as the remote border area is challenging to access, and we are awaiting an update. In Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya where as many as 300 South Sudanese are now arriving daily we had registered 3,173 new arrivals by Sunday evening. The situation in Sudan remains less clear. At least several hundred South Sudanese have crossed the border, and perhaps several thousand. But with many groups, including nomads and rebels, active in the area, it is difficult to know yet exactly how many are refugees and UNHCR is working to find out.

Inside South Sudan, UNHCR is operating with a reduced staff of 200 people because of the ongoing fighting and insecurity throughout much of the country. But we continue to supply services to some 230,000 existing refugees at 10 refugee camps in South Sudan while we have also taking on increased responsibilities for the 57,000 civilians taking refuge in 10 UN compounds throughout the country. We are helping lead efforts to protect especially vulnerable people like women and children. And we have brought in experts in areas such as site-planning and camp-management.

Yesterday, a chartered flight arrived in Juba carrying essential relief items from UNHCR's stockpiles in Nairobi. They include 12,500 blankets, 2,500 sets of cooking pots and other kitchen equipment as well as some 4,000 plastic sheets to shelter 20,000 displaced people in and around the capital.

In Maban in northeastern South Sudan, just four of our international staff and 11 national staff have been working with partners and with refugees themselves to continue to serve 120,000 refugees in four camps. They are making sure health services remain available, for example, and that water pumps are still working so refugees have access to both healthcare and clean water. With our sister UN agency, the World Food Programme, we have distributed food rations to the refugees for 45 days instead of the normal 30 days, so that they will be able to eat in case we are forced to disrupt services. We are also in the process of distributing soap in all four camps. Given the dangerous and fast-changing nature of operating in South Sudan, we are stretching resources and working to fill any gaps in service.

UNHCR is also preparing to return personnel to Yida in Unity State, where three national staff and partners have been continuing to serve the 77,000 refugees in Yida and Ajuong Thok camps close to Sudanese border. That plan is contingent on the deployment of additional UN peacekeepers. Operating in Unity State remains dangerous and unpredictable. Last week, UNHCR lost six pick-up trucks to looters, who also helped themselves to barrels of fuel and spare parts for vehicles and water pumps in Yida.

Despite the ongoing conflict in South Sudan, however, we have also registered 430 new refugees from South Kordofan, Sudan, since December 22.

The South Sudanese government has declared a state of emergency in Unity and Jonglei states. With opposition forces now controlling the Jonglei capital, Bor, again, a large government military contingent has moved north to Pariang close to both Yida and Ajuong Thok refugee camps. As a result, we are greatly worried about any effects of the fighting on the refugees and on our ability to serve them. We remind all parties to the conflict that refugee camps must remain civilian in character.

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