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Influx of Congolese refugees into South Sudan continues

Briefing notes

Influx of Congolese refugees into South Sudan continues

17 February 2009

The number of Congolese refugees who have sought safety in South Sudan since attacks by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) last year has now surpassed the 15,000 mark.

UNHCR staff late last week accompanied local South Sudanese authorities to Lasu, a sparsely populated village in Central Equatoria State where they found the population of Congolese refugees had swelled from 2,000 to approximately 6,000. Most of them fled from the DRC town of Aba, which has been attacked several times since January, the latest last week. Lasu is 45 km from the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

There had been fears of a mass influx of refugees from Aba after last week's LRA attack. Refugees interviewed in Lasu by our team confirmed that Aba, with an estimated population of 100,000, was deserted. Earlier reports of large numbers of displaced people moving towards Central Equatoria in South Sudan appear to have been unfounded and it is now believed they have moved to the south based on accounts from the new arrivals in Lasu.

Meanwhile, unconfirmed reports from local residents indicate that LRA are also active in South Sudan, looting property and abducting 21 people in the village of Neuf, 9 km from Lasu.

Our team reports that refugees in Lasu are generally in good health but are in need of emergency assistance. They are living in the open, with only one well to share with the local population and no food. There are a dozens of unaccompanied and separated children, separated from their parents during flight. Aid agencies are coordinating assistance, including the provision of clean water and the emergency construction of latrines to improve the sanitation situation. WFP is sending food from Juba today (Tuesday) and UNHCR began a verification of refugees on Saturday. The relief effort is also being supported by UNICEF (water and sanitation), and MSF-Belgium and MEDAIR (health care).

Meanwhile, in South Sudan's Western Equatoria State, the registered population of Congolese refugees who fled LRA attacks in the Dungu area of north-western DRC in January has reached 9,139. The majority are in Ezo (2,258) near the Sudan's border with the Central African Republic, while others temporarily settled around Yambio in Gangura (2,451), Sakure (910) and Yambio itself (1,813). An additional 1,707 are scattered in seven villages in Yambio and Maridi Counties near Sudan's border with DRC. UN agencies are collaborating with local authorities to provide security and assistance to these populations.

It is critical to move all of these refugees away from border areas both for security reasons and to facilitate distribution of aid. Access to the refugees will soon become impossible when the seasonal rains begin in April and roads become impassable. Work is underway in other camps away from the border. Demarcation of plots at Makpandu camp, north of Yambio, is completed and construction of shelters is ongoing alongside installation of water and latrines. About 400 of the planned 2,000 shelters are completed. The transfer of those who are willing to move began in mid-December, with more than 1,000 relocated to date.