Thousands flee to Uganda after South Sudan flare-up
GENEVA – Nearly 3,000 people fleeing the latest flare-up in South Sudan crossed into Uganda over the weekend and more are expected while tension remains high in the region, the UN refugee agency said today.
On Friday and Saturday, 1,326 South Sudanese entered Uganda and a further 1,633 on Sunday. This brought the total of those who have fled across the border since the violence began on July 7 to 5,015. The average daily rate before Friday was 233.
More than 90 per cent of the new arrivals were women and children under 18.
UNHCR spokesperson Leo Dobbs told a press briefing in Geneva that more than 90 per cent of the new arrivals were women and children under 18.
A fragile ceasefire has held since last Monday, but the United Nations has warned of the possibility of fresh fighting in the capital, Juba.
The 200-km Juba-Nimule road linking Juba to Uganda had been cleared of checkpoints, Dobbs said. “As a result, more people are now coming by truck, and this explains the rising numbers of arrivals, who are also bringing belongings.”
Thousands have entered Uganda’s northern region via the border crossing points at Moyo, Kuluba, Lamwo, Yumbe and Elegu, and others have gone directly to Kiryandongo refugee settlement in the mid-west of the country.
Previously, the border was closed on the South Sudan side but border restrictions have been eased.
The new arrivals are mostly fleeing Eastern Equatoria state, with a smaller number arriving from Juba. They report that the security situation remains volatile and fighting could return at any time. The refugees said there had been an increase in looting.
Inside Uganda, more than 6,000 South Sudanese are staying in the Pagiarinya settlement in Adjumani District and others are waiting at collection points to be transferred to the settlement. A recent evaluation found that Pagiarinya had the capacity for another 6,500 people, which meant it was likely to be full within days.
An inter-agency site assessment mission, including the government and UNHCR, was visiting sites to identify areas suitable for new settlements, the agency said.
“The refugees are arriving in Uganda tired and hungry,” Dobbs added. “Many of them have walked for days carrying belongings. Others have malnutrition after walking without food for days.
“Militia activities in some areas of South Sudan have made it difficult to harvest crops in recent months.”
The UN has said at least 300 people were killed and some 10,000 are currently displaced after the violence in Juba. Several countries have begun to evacuate their nationals, while neighbouring countries have offered to send additional UN peacekeeping troops.
Dobbs continued: “There have also been despicable attacks against humanitarian workers, including rape, which we strongly condemn. Those responsible must be brought to justice for barbarous assaults against aid workers.”
The devaluation of the South Sudanese pound has contributed to the tension, leading to skyrocketing prices and making food too expensive for many.
In western Ethiopia’s Gambella region, the number of new arrivals has not risen significantly since June 11, but the fresh fighting has dampened hopes of a return home soon. The Kenya-South Sudan border has also been relatively quiet. Last Thursday, UNHCR transferred 169 new arrivals from the border to Kakuma camp.
“The fresh displacement in South Sudan will put a further strain on UNHCR’s resources for the South Sudan operation and our ability to provide timely and life-saving assistance,” Dobbs said.