The U.N. refugee agency has begun a major airlift from Kenya to South Sudan. The planes will bring urgently needed aid to around 50,000 Sudanese refugees who have fled fighting in the two Sudanese border states of Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan.
The first of 18 flights using C-130 Hercules aircraft left Nairobi headed for South Sudan’s Malakak airport, a major landing strip close to the refugee sites.
The U.N. refugee agency reports the plane is carrying 12 tons of supplies, including plastic sheets, sleeping mats, blankets, mosquito nets and kitchen sets. The remaining 17 flights will deliver more than 270 tons of additional relief supplies from UNHCR’s stockpiles in Nairobi.
UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said the supplies will be taken by road from Malakal airport either to Maban county in Upper Nile state in the northeast, or westwards to Unity state. In addition to these flights, he said the UNHCR will be sending 10,000 tents to South Sudan from its warehouse in Dubai in the coming weeks.
Reports of scattered refugees
“In recent months, as you will probably recall, Upper Nile and Unity states have been receiving refugees from fighting in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states. Many families have left with few belongings, walking for weeks through the bush," said Edwards. "In Upper Nile state, we know at least 40,000 refugees have arrived since September. Most of these are in Maban county. We are also looking at reports of around 27,000 refugees scattered across the Guffa area county, which is further to the north.”
Edwards said UNHCR aid workers are trying to reach these remote areas to verify the reports.
Sudan’s armed forces and rebels of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement-North have been fighting since September. The two sides also began fighting in South Kordofan state, Sudan’s main oil state, a month before South Sudan’s secession from the north on July 9.
Edwards said that since August, 22,000 refugees from the Nuba Mountains of Southern Kordofan state have fled to the Yida settlement in Unity state. He said the UNHCR is concerned about the refugees' security at Yida because it is near the border. He notes the settlement has come under attack in the past, most recently in mid-November.
Makeshift shelters used
“It is a settlement. It is makeshift in nature... there have been bombings there in recent weeks. There has also been the problem amid rains, of landmines and on the roads where you try to move people," said Edwards. "Now, what tends to happen when people flee across the border, typically they want to stay somewhere where they can go back home fairly easily. And, so people are choosing to stay either for the moment. And, we are endeavoring to bring them to safer locations still.”
Edwards said work is underway on alternative sites further south in Unity state. He said the UNHCR and its partners are providing the refugees in Yida with emergency assistance. Once they are moved to the new sites, he said the refugees will receive food, water and healthcare in addition to basic services.
He said the refugees also will be able to attend school, receive skills training, farm and pursue other livelihood activities.