Fighting in South Sudan's Jonglei state displaces tens of thousands

People in Pibor county are particularly affected. Meanwhile, many civilians are walking long distances to find sanctuary in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia.

Refugees from an earlier wave of violence in Jonglei state gather under the shade of a tree in the Ethiopian border town of Matar   © UNHCR/S.Tessema

NAIROBI, Kenya, June 11 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency said on Tuesday it was alarmed by fighting between government forces and armed troops in South Sudan's Jonglei state, which has displaced tens of thousands of people since erupting in March.

"In Pibor county in particular, we have seen increasing tension and serious allegations of a break-down in law and order, evidenced among other things by indiscriminate abuses and looting of civilian property," a UNHCR spokesperson said. Most of Pibor's 148,000 people are affected and many have been displaced more than once by the hostilities. Many people have fled into the bush, into areas that are hard to reach.

The security constraints have made it difficult for UNHCR to monitor the situation and to respond to humanitarian needs. Finding and reaching people affected by fighting in Jonglei is a major concern. "When we get access, we have been conducting border monitoring missions to assess population movements and we are sharing this information with neighbouring countries," the spokesperson said.

Many civilians are walking long distances to find sanctuary in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. In the first five months of this year, UNHCR registered 5,397 refugees from Jonglei state at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in north-west Kenya. These numbers are significant: this is approaching the total that arrived there in all of last year and is more than double the number who arrived in 2011 or 2010.

In Uganda, some 2,700 refugees from Jonglei have arrived since the beginning of the year, averaging about 527 per month.

The fighting in Pibor has resulted in an influx into Ethiopia, but on a smaller scale than some recent reports have suggested. Around 16,000 people arrived mainly between February 2012 and February 2013 - before the most recent fighting.

UNHCR assessment teams have just returned from the border inside Ethiopia where they established the arrival of 2,178 refugees between May 7 and June 7. Some new arrivals reported that more people were on their way to Ethiopia from the Nyalongoro, Kaiwa and Niate areas of South Sudan.

"In South Sudan, we are working both in Jonglei state and at the national level to advocate for better protection of displaced people," said the spokesperson. As part of the humanitarian community, UNHCR is engaging with the government, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, key members of the diplomatic community and other stakeholders to ensure protection of civilians and improved humanitarian access.