UNHCR takes preparatory steps to relocate refugees from South Sudan's Yida settlement

UNHCR and UN peace-keepers explore the suitability and accessibility of potential relocation sites offered by the South Sudan government for thousands of refugees.

Sudanese refugees in Yida settlement.  © UNHCR/K.Mahoney

JUBA, South Sudan, November 2 (UNHCR) - Concerned about the safety of almost 63,000 Sudanese refugees in South Sudan's Yida settlement, UNHCR wants to relocate these vulnerable civilians and has started assessing alternative sites.

Staff from UNHCR and the United Nations Mission in South Sudan on Thursday undertook a joint mission by helicopter to explore the suitability and accessibility of potential relocation sites offered by the South Sudan government.

"We are in daily contact with the government regarding the relocation," said UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards. "UNHCR technical experts will be in the area next week to design new sites - both for the refugees now in Yida, and in anticipation of possible new refugee inflows from fighting in [Sudan's] South Kordofan state once the rainy season ends."

Yida's close proximity to the border has made it a high risk protection environment for refugees, with the recurrent presence of armed personnel in and around the settlement. "Right now, the safety of the refugees and the civilian character of the settlement cannot be guaranteed. We report incidents of armed elements being seen to the South Sudan authorities," Edwards said.

Safety of refugees is always a concern to UNHCR, but what makes the situation in Yida particularly worrying is that nearly 70 per cent of refugees there are below the age of 18 years.

Edwards said that UNHCR and its partners had established seven child protection committees with the refugee community. "When children arrive on their own, we ensure they are quickly united with relatives already settled in Yida or are provided foster care to make them less vulnerable."

The current funding situation makes it difficult for UNHCR to address even the most urgent needs of some 175,000 refugees in South Sudan's Unity and Upper Nile states. The Sudanese operation is dramatically underfunded.

The UNHCR revised appeal for this year covers US$186 million, of which only 40 per cent has been received so far. At minimum, a further US$20 million must be received before January. International NGOs also need additional funding beyond that amount to ensure that all activities can be carried out as needed.