Bunj, South Sudan, June 6, 2012 (SSNA) -- The latest wave of fighting in Sudan has seen 35,000 new refugees arrive through different border zones in Upper Nile state in less than three weeks.
5,200 refugees have been relocated to Yusuf Batil, the third and newest refugee settlement in Upper Nile, leaving some 31,000 in Hofra/Rum (a new temporary transit site).
Refugees continue to cite aerial bombardments and ground fighting between the Sudanese army and SPLA-N combatants as well as food shortages resulting from their inability to cultivate fields due to the ongoing conflict. There are unconfirmed claims that certain escape routes were blocked.
Descriptions of refugees’ ordeals inside Blue Nile state point to a trend of multiple displacements. Sheikh Ramadan led a community of 250 mostly women and children from Kurmuk in western Blue Nile. He told UNHCR that for months they hosted displaced tribes in their village.
“Aerial bombings increased to the point where they became a daily occurrence, coming closer and closer to our village. As our food reserves ran out and the attacks intensified, we decided to leave.” The sheikh added that the bombings took place at night and in the early mornings, compelling the villagers to take cover in a dry stream.
Sheikh Abdallah from Magaja, in Kurmuk locality, led 375 mostly women, children and elderly persons to the border crossing at Elfoj. He told UNHCR that the trek lasted nearly five months, including several weeks in the dense forest of Kursama.
“The rains were still falling when we decided to leave, knowing the weather would shield us from attack-since moving military equipment in waterlogged muddy terrain is very difficult,” he said. He recounted how he had to pace the journey so that small children and the elderly whose feet and legs swelled terribly would not be left behind. “When we ran out of food, we ate what the forest could provide, like leaves and wild tubers.”
When the rain stopped, shortly after Sheikh Abdalla and his people left Magaja, the village was shelled and the area became one of the hotbeds of fierce fighting.
These village leaders’ accounts are reminiscent of reports by others who have fled Blue Nile state. They depict punishing journeys that involved hiding in caves and walking through forests concealed from the radar of circling aircraft, exposed to the elements and without access to proper food or water. It is not known how many perished on the way.
Fred Cussigh, UNHCR’s head of operations in the area remarked that the upsurge of new arrivals is imposing additional pressures in an already difficult humanitarian situation. “The rainy season has begun, and already-poor road conditions have deteriorated significantly. We are providing buses and trucks to move people to safer locations. Some groups of refugees are moving on their own to the camps at Doro and Jammam.” 800 exhausted refugees recently arrived in Doro through New Guffa on foot.
Cussigh confirmed that refugees are receiving medical attention and food parcels before they are relocated to safer areas. “While hunger, dehydration and exhaustion are evident amongst the new arrivals, relatively few refugees have been found to be in ill health. However, we are concerned that the situation could deteriorate for those still making their way to the border.”
Cussigh observed that the most critical operational challenge is to provide adequate potable water for all refugees and prevent the outbreak of disease. “We are working with local authorities to identify sites with reliable water sources elsewhere in Upper Nile state in order to ease pressures on the limited yield in Maban county where all of the refugee sites are presently located.” Currently partners are trucking water to refugee sites, while five rigs are operational and drilling efforts are continuing round the clock.
In the refugee settlements, communities are encouraged, and indeed prefer, to reside together in clusters in order to maintain communal structures and prevent the erosion of coping mechanisms as humanitarian actors endeavour to meet critical life-saving needs. UNHCR registers new arrivals and distributes tents, kitchen sets, jerry cans, buckets, sleeping mats and blankets. WFP provides a 30-day ration comprising sorghum, lentils and vegetable oil. MSF provides medical care while water and sanitation activities (latrines, showers, health promotion) are carried out by Oxfam, Goal and IOM.
Including the new arrivals South Sudan is currently hosting over 150,000 refugees from Sudan. Over 105,000 of these are in Upper Nile State, while a further 47,000 are in settlements further west in Unity State.
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