News / Africa

Sudanese Civilians Flee Fighting In Abyei

A 2009 aerial shot of Abyei town, south Sudan (File)
A 2009 aerial shot of Abyei town, south Sudan (File)

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Joe DeCapua

In Sudan, a medical aid group said Monday that weekend fighting in Abyei has driven out most of the city’s civilian population.

Doctors Without Borders [MSF] is treating both sick and wounded at its hospital in Agok, about 40 kilometers south of Abyei.

“We have two teams permanently based, one of them in Abyei and the second one in Agok. So, we started receiving on Friday information from our team in Abyei that violence was taking place north of Abyei and the population in Abyei started to vacate the town Friday night, Saturday morning, ” said Dr. Gustavo Fernandez, MSF’s program manager in the Abyei region.

Get out

On Saturday, MSF headquarters told team members in Abyei to leave and relocate in Agok. “By that time the town was almost empty of civilians,” said Fernandez.

MSF has a hospital in Agok where surgery can be performed and treatment given to malnourished children.

“So the team in Abyei reinforced the team in Agok and they started to respond to the needs of the people fleeing the conflict in [the] Abyei area. All in all, since Friday…we have admitted 46 patients,” he said.

Main concerns

Many children are among those who’ve fled Abyei and are showing the effects of being on the road. Many are showing signs of dehydration. Rehydration centers have been set up in the Agok hospital

Fernandez said, “At the same time, since Sunday, our team in Agok started to witness the movement of the population going south of Agok, due to the fear the violence might also arrive to [the] town. And this has been a trend that we have seen going on all Sunday and early today, Monday, in Agok.”

MSF has also sent a team south to provide emergency medical treatment for those on the road. Most are heading for the town of Turelei.

“Our intention is to set up and boost medical activities in Turelei so they have surgical capacity as well there. And mobile clinics are able to go outside with the displaced population and assess their needs and respond,” he said.

Fernandez said MSF is unable to determine whether any of those being treated might be soldiers of the SPLA of South Sudan. It had clashed with northern Sudan forces over Abyei, an oil-rich region. Northern forces are now in control. The issue of Abyei is yet to be settled between the north and the south, despite a referendum earlier this year allowing South Sudan to become an independent nation in July.

Planning to stay

While civilians continue to head south away from both Abyei and Agok, for the time being, MSF plans to keep its hospital in Agok open.

“But it depends very much,” said Fernandez, “on how the security situation evolves in the coming hours. It’s a major concern for us that if the security situation deteriorates our capacity to respond to the population’s needs in Agok will be severely hampered.”

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