More than 4,000 people have fled to a remote region of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) due to recent fighting between local groups, known as the ‘Arrow Boys’ and the South Sudanese Army in the Western Equatoria region of South Sudan, the United Nations refugee agency said today.
“Two UNHCR teams have so far this week registered 3,464 newly arrived refugees in areas near the border in DRC’s Dungu Territory. They also report that 1,206 Congolese refugees, previously in South Sudan, have fled to the same area as a result of the fighting,” said Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Adrian Edwards during the regular bi-weekly press briefing in Geneva.
Mr. Edwards added that the Ezo settlement in South Sudan, originally home to nearly 3,300 Congolese refugees, is now virtually empty, with the remaining refugee families having fled to nearby fields.
According to Mr. Edwards, registration in DRC is ongoing in areas along the border, where more arrivals are being reported, and, at the same time, the closest UNHCR office is some 400 kilometres away in Bunia, causing delays for the UNHCR team to reach the localities where refugees are.
“Ninety per cent of the South Sudanese refugees are women and children. Some had walked for three days, carrying only their most important belongings. Most men have stayed behind in South Sudan,” said Mr. Edwards.
He also observed that some refugees have been sleeping in the open or in abandoned huts without roofing, and most are being sheltered by local families, among them former Sudanese refugees from earlier conflicts.
Mr. Edwards said that UNHCR has distributed plastic sheeting for 409 people, but he underscored that the most urgent needs of the refugees are shelter, food and medical care.
The nearest hospital is approximately 80 kilometres away, said Mr. Edwards adding that further assessments will help in determining the support needed, as many refugees have refused to return to South Sudan if there is no peace.
Highlighting the consequences of the conflict in South Sudan which erupted two years ago, Mr. Edwards said that the crisis has forced nearly 2.3 million people to flee their homes, 650,000 of these across borders as refugees and 1.65 million displaced inside the country.