A sudden massive influx of refugees from Sudan’s Blue Nile state seeking asylum in the remote northeast region of South Sudan is putting additional pressure on humanitarian agencies that have already been working to provide emergency assistance to the area since last December.
The UNHCR High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, warned today that humanitarian partners are contending with a difficult situation as thousands of refugees have arrived over the past three weeks, many in poor condition.
In addition, the UNHCR reports that refugees arriving in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State cited daily bombings, difficult escapes and food scarcity in Blue Nile, forcing them to leave the area for the sake of their safety.
“The refugees are reporting that they have undergone multiple displacements inside Blue Nile before crossing the border into South Sudan. They are indicating that there have been area bombings, as well as not being able to cultivate the field this year. So they have no food,” said Terry Ongaro, communications officer for UNHCR’s Juba office.
She said there are indications that many villages have been hosting villagers who have been displaced elsewhere and groups are moving together and crossing into Upper Nile State.
Currently there are close to 105,000 refugees in the area.
“Until about three weeks ago we had 70,000. In that short space of time, we’ve seen an increase of 35,000 crossing the border at various points along the border,” said Ongaro.
Upon their arrival to Upper Nile State, Ongaro said women, men and children are exhausted from their long journey, after walking for weeks.
“Refugee chiefs are telling us that many times they’ve had to pace the journey to allow the elderly and young to carry on with swollen feet and legs,” said Ongaro.
One of the most critical challenges now for the UNHCR and its partners is to move the refugees away from border areas, where there are security risks.
“The other challenge in Upper Nile is in Maban county where we’ve been experiencing problems in accessing water for the refugees. Therefore we are discussing with local authorities the possibility of establishing sites outside of the county,” said Ongaro.
Still, another challenge lies ahead. Ongaro said they are racing against time because the rains have started in an area already logistically challenging.