UNHCR sounds warning over situation in South Sudan's Yei
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is increasingly concerned for the safety and well-being of some 100,000 people trapped in Yei, South Sudan – a town situated in Central Equatoria State, about 150 kilometres south-west of Juba.
According to the town church, more than 30,000 people have been displaced into Yei from surrounding areas, following deadly attacks on civilians and looting of private property on 11 and 13 September. They joined several thousand others displaced from nearby Lainya County since mid-July, and up to 60,000 town residents who remain in Yei with no means to leave and who are now in as much need as those displaced by the conflict.
Until now, Yei has been largely spared from the violence and attacks that have plagued the country since December 2013. UNHCR’s presence there has been limited to providing protection activities and assistance to refugees from neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who live in Yei town and nearby Lasu settlement.
The security situation in Yei deteriorated rapidly after renewed conflict broke out in Juba in early July and came to a head earlier this month, forcing thousands of civilians to flee their homes. This is the first time that the population in Yei – primarily farmers living on commercial and subsistence agriculture – has become a direct target of violence, and on suspicion of their belonging to opposition groups. They urgently need humanitarian assistance.
An inter-agency mission to Yei, led by UNHCR on Tuesday 27 September, observed that tens of thousands of displaced are sheltering in abandoned houses and smaller numbers in church compounds and are facing a serious shortage of food and medicine.
Terrorized men and women spoke of horrific violence against civilians before and during their flight, including assault, targeted killing, mutilation, looting and burning of property. Several civilians have been hacked to death, including women and infants. There are reports that many young men, aged between 17 and 30, have been arrested on suspicion of siding with the opposition.
Displaced people need food, household items, medicines and the children need access to schools. Food prices are skyrocketing, with basic commodities quickly disappearing from the market. Many internally displaced people have reported that their food stocks have been looted. Two local hospitals are functioning at reduced capacity. Lack of high-energy food for malnourished children and breastfeeding mothers is becoming critical. As information continues to be gathered, there are indications of increasing sexual and gender-based violence, and unaccompanied and separated children. The population is unable to leave the town due to limited freedom of movement and lack of resources. With farmers unable to reach their fields, harvests are rotting and the risk of missing the upcoming planting season is very high. This means that people may have no crops next year.
Back in Juba, humanitarian partners are mobilizing to respond to the situation in Yei, including provision of food, non-food items and drugs. A date for access is still not certain.
Deteriorating security in South Sudan has forced more than 200,000 people to flee the country since 8 July 2016, bringing the number of South Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries to over 1 million. In South Sudan, more than 1.61 million people are internally displaced and another 261,000 are refugees from Sudan, DRC, Ethiopia, and Central African Republic.
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