More than 5,000 people – primarily women and children under the age of 18 years – have fled from South Sudan to neighbouring Uganda since the latest violence in the country erupted on 7 July, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The agency expects more people to arrive as the road linking the South Sudanese capital, Juba, to Uganda has been cleared of checkpoints, Leo Dobbs, spokesperson for the UNHCR, today told reporters at a press briefing in Geneva.
“People are arriving in Uganda tired and hungry. Many of them have walked for days carrying belongings. Others are suffering from malnutrition after walking without food for days,” said Mr. Dobbs.
Thousands of people entered Uganda’s northern region via the border crossing points at Moyo, Kuluba, Lamwo, Yumbe and Elegu. Some of them headed directly to Kiryandongo refugee settlement in the mid-west of the country. Most of the new arrivals have fled from South Sudan’s Eastern Equatoria state, with a smaller number coming from Juba.
“Inside Uganda, more than 6,000 South Sudanese are staying in the Pagiarinya settlement in Adjumani District, while others are waiting at collection points to be transferred to the settlement,” Mr. Dobbs said, expressing caution that a recent evaluation found that the settlement has capacity for another 6,500 people, “Meaning it is likely to be full within a few days.”
Between Friday and Sunday, about 2,950 refugees had crossed into Uganda; prior to Friday, the daily rate was about 233 people.
“Those arriving spoke of a volatile security situation and fear that fighting could return at any time. They also reported an increase in looting,” Mr. Dobbs said.
According to reports, the violence in Juba has resulted in the deaths of at least 300 people and over 10,000 have fled their homes. Several countries have evacuated their nationals.
He also condemned violent attacks against humanitarian workers, which have left at least one person dead.
In addition, UN humanitarian property has been destroyed. On 14 July, the main warehouse in the city run by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) was looted. The warehouse held one month’s worth of life-saving food and nutrition supplies for 220,000 people before the fighting erupted.
Although a fragile ceasefire has held since late Monday, the threat of fresh fighting remains. The situation is further exasperated by skyrocketing prices, due to the devaluation of the South Sudanese pound, making the food that is available too expensive for many. The fighting has also disrupted supply routes from Uganda into South Sudan, including aid and food.
UNHCR and partners are undertaking assessments and providing assistance in displacement sites. This includes an inter-agency site assessment mission with officials from the Ugandan prime minister’s office, to visit and identify sites suitable for establishing new settlement areas.
“The fresh displacement will put a further strain on UNHCR’s resources for the South Sudan operation and our ability to provide timely and life-saving assistance,” he said.
Last Friday, in Nairobi, Kenya, UNHCR presented a revised appeal for its South Sudanese refugees operations, seeking $701 million. The earlier appeal for $638 million was only 17 per cent funded.
Based on new planning, the agency has revised its figures from 867,239 refugees to 973,000 and there are fears that it could cross 1 million in the coming months.