Spiraling violence has forced an increasing number of civilians in South Sudan’s oil-rich Unity state are seeking refuge with the United Nations peacekeeping mission, it was confirmed today.
“The numbers of internally displaced persons currently sheltered at the UNMISS protection of civilians site in Bentiu are swelling,” UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said referring to the acronym for the UN Mission in the country.
More than 12,000 civilians are currently seeking refuge, he noted. The majority of them are women and children.
The figure comes one day after reports that opposition forces took control of the state capital, Bentiu. UNMISS today received reports that anti-Government forces are also now controlling Guit and Rubkona Counties in Unity State.
UN military patrols also identified thousands of displaced civilians gathered in the vicinity of Bentiu Hospital and the compound of the UN World Food Programme (WFP).
Later in the day, an UNMISS official confirmed that the Mission had managed to get all remaining civilians out of the hospital and into a safe location.
Since the hostilities that erupted between the Government and opposition forces last December, an average of 75,000 civilians have found refuge from violence in UN bases across the country.
UN ‘blue helmets’ conducted a number of patrols yesterday, including in Bentiu and Rubkona, where the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) headquarters was described as “empty” with a few SPLA soldiers deployed in Bentiu.
Looting of shops by civilians in the state capital was also observed. The patrol also witnessed some 40 bodies on the streets in Bentiu, Mr. Dujarric said.
Speaking to journalists yesterday in Juba, UN Humanitarian Coordinator Toby Lanzer said the number of people seeking shelter in Bentiu doubled over the past few days to at least 9,000 people.
Mr. Lanzer said he felt “a certain sense of outrage”, as UNMISS, UN agencies and other aid agencies made efforts to deal with immediate consequences of the ongoing violence.
About a million people in South Sudan have been forced from their homes due to the conflict. The UN continues to advocate with the country’s authorities for political and security solutions that will allow the displaced to return to their homes or seek abode in any other part of the country.