The United Nations refugee agency today expressed extreme concern over a combination of new fighting in previously peaceful areas, food insecurity and severe humanitarian funding shortages, which continue to cause a worsening of the situation in South Sudan for many civilians.
Recent fighting between Government and opposition forces in Western Bahr al Ghazal has displaced more than 96,000 people to Wau town, in the northwest of the country, Ariane Rummery, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),
told reporters in Geneva, noting that neighbouring countries are now reporting rising refugee inflows.
“With the Regional Refugee Response Plan funded at just 8 per cent, many life-saving services are threatened,” Ms. Rummery said. “UNHCR is extremely concerned.”
The spokesperson said that an estimated 52,000 South Sudanese have fled into Sudan since late January, exceeding planning projections for 2016. At present, the refugees are mainly in East and South Darfur and West Kordofan.
UNHCR non-food item distributions by truck in East Darfur are expected to begin on Wednesday and distributions have already taken place to all new arrivals in South Darfur and to some of the new population in West Kordofan, she said.
Ms. Rummery noted that the World Food Programme (WFP) has been distributing one-month food rations to new arrivals in East and South Darfur, and is prepared to begin distributions in West Kordofan pending security clearance from authorities. Together with partner agencies, a three-month response plan has been prepared to accommodate an additional 120,000 new arrivals before June.
In addition, Ms. Rummery said that 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 in Uganda.
The site where the South Sudanese refugees are sheltered, Maaji III, which is in the north-west of the country, is nearing capacity and basic life-saving services and other services are severely stretched, the spokesperson said.
She also said that 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.
This recent spike in the rate of arrivals from South Sudan followed a long lull with an average daily arrival rate of less than one for the past two months, according to Ms. Rummery. UNHCR and 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.
Ms. Rummery went on to say that while fighting has subsided in the Western Equatoria region of South Sudan since February, some 12,000 people crossed into the Democratic Republic of the Congo and sought shelter in the north-eastern province of Haut-Uélé in the past few months.
The local communities have been welcoming of the refugees, but capacities are stretched, and thousands of the more recent arrivals have settled in very precarious conditions. The area is difficult to access and there are few humanitarian organizations present, the spokesperson said.
In addition, the conflict in Western Equatoria has forced thousands of South Sudanese from Source Yubu and Ezo to cross the border and seek asylum in the Central African Republic. As of 11 April, 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 about 950 inhabitants, putting a severe strain on resources. Many refugees are suffering from malaria, waterborne diseases and malnutrition. Access to potable water, food, health care, sanitation and shelter is urgently needed for the entire population, Ms. Rummery said.
The spokesperson also said that 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. Ms. Rummery noted that 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.