South Sudan refugee outflow grows as relief funds lag
New fighting and food insecurity in the world's youngest nation are driving more displacement at a time when refugee relief operations are only 11 per cent funded.
GENEVA, April 19 (UNHCR) - A combination of new fighting in previously peaceful areas, food insecurity and severe humanitarian funding shortages continue to cause a sharp worsening of the situation in South Sudan for many civilians.
Recent fighting between government and opposition forces in Western Bahr al Ghazal state has displaced more than 96,000 people to Wau, a small town in the north-west of South Sudan, the world's youngest country.
All the African nation's six neighbours - Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda - are now reporting rising refugee inflows, at a time when operations to meet their needs are severely underfunded.
"With the Regional Refugee Response Plan funded at just eight per cent, many life-saving services are threatened and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is extremely concerned," spokesperson Ariane Rummery told a news briefing in Geneva on Tuesday (April 19).
Since late January, an estimated 52,000 people have fled to neighbouring Sudan, from which South Sudan gained independence in 2011. The influx exceeds planning projections for 2016. At present they are mainly in East and South Darfur and West Kordofan.
The distribution by truck in East Darfur of UNHCR relief items - including plastic sheeting, kitchen sets, sleeping mats and blankets - is expected to begin on Wednesday. Distributions have already taken place to all new arrivals in South Darfur and to some of the new population in West Kordofan. Together with partner agencies a three-month response plan has been prepared to accommodate an additional 120,000 new arrivals before June.
Neighbouring Uganda has seen a sharp increase in refugee arrivals from South Sudan since January, sometimes as many as 800 individuals per day. In all, 28,000 South Sudanese - 86 per cent of them women and children - have sought refuge there.
"The site where the South Sudanese refugees are sheltered, Maaji III in the north-west of the country, is nearing capacity and basic life-saving services and other services are severely stretched," Rummery said.
MORE ARRIVALS REACH ETHIOPIA
Ethiopia, which hosts some 285,000 South Sudanese refugees, is seeing a recent - albeit more modest - increase in arrivals after a long period in which there were very few new refugees. Since April 5, more than 300 new arrivals have been registered by at the Okugo refugee camp in the Gambella region.
Rummery said UNHCR and its partners have been providing basic assistance including corn soya blend to children, plastic sheets, mosquito nets, blankets, sleeping mats and water jerry cans at the camp.
While fighting has subsided in the Western Equatoria region of South Sudan since February, some 12,000 people crossed into Democratic Republic of the Congo and sought shelter in the north-eastern province of Haut-Uélé in the past few months.
Rummery stressed that local communities there have been welcoming of the refugees, and many of those who came at the end of 2015 have found shelter with local families, "but capacities are stretched, and thousands of the more recent arrivals have settled in very precarious conditions."
The conflict in Western Equatoria has also forced thousands of South Sudanese from Source Yubu and Ezo to cross the border and to seek asylum in the Central African Republic. As of April 11, UNHCR had registered 10,454 South Sudanese refugees in the town of Bambouti, located in a difficult-to-reach area in the easternmost part of the Central African Republic.
"The new arrivals in Bambouti greatly outnumber the host community, estimated at around 950 inhabitants, putting a severe strain on resources," Rummery noted. "Many refugees are suffering from malaria, waterborne diseases and malnutrition. Access to potable water, food, healthcare, sanitation and shelter is urgently needed for the entire population."
UNHCR led an inter-agency mission to Bambouti last month to assess the needs of the refugees, and organized a 12-truck convoy transporting food, medicine and emergency relief items, including blankets, kitchen sets and mosquito nets, which arrived on 7 April.
UNHCR's Kakuma Operation in north-eastern Kenya has recorded a steady increase in new arrivals from South Sudan, rising from an average of 100 people a month at the start of this year to 350 people a week over the past two months.
So far, Kakuma camp hosts some 4,185 new South Sudanese refugees received in the year, the majority of whom are children and women, mostly from Eastern Equatoria, Upper Nile and Jonglei States, in the east of the country. They cite insecurity, intense famine and the high cost of living as the reasons for their flight.
Some 2.3 million people have had to flee their homes since violence broke out in South Sudan in December 2013, 678,000 of these across borders as refugees and 1.69 million displaced inside the country.