A protection site for internally displaced persons in South Sudan is facing severe overcrowding following an influx of new arrivals. The site, which is protected by U.N. peacekeepers and designed to host 12,000 people, now has more than 37,000 occupants as thousands more continue to be uprooted by violence in Upper Nile state.
The fighting that sparked the influx is between two armed groups in Upper Nile state, in northeastern South Sudan.
The violence around villages in Kodok and Fashoda counties has raged for months and has claimed the lives of more than 4,000 people. Another 20,000 have been displaced.
Paul Awan, the relief and rehabilitation coordinator in Upper Nile state, describes the situation as a massacre, which is unfolding amid floods.
“... There is a lot of death, seeing children die in water is also happening, and when people are killed, its takes time to collect the bodies,” he said. “Now bodies are in the water, in the bush and the worst part is that the bush is being burned."
Caught up in the fighting are defenseless civilians like Lucia Oluok. Oluok said she and her eight children had to trek for seven days to reach safety.
Others were not able to escape. Weda Jerim, for example, left behind her injured husband.
She said she ran to the bush without knowing where she was going, to an area without food or water. She said there’s no place for sleeping, and she and others sit under trees. They’ve been in the bush for five months, she said.
The swelling number of civilians escaping the violence is now straining resources at the U.N. Protection of Civilians Site in the town of Malakal.
The protection camp in Malakal, which was designed to hold 12,000 people, is now at three times its capacity. Those who cannot be accommodated here are being forced to cross to neighboring Sudan, a country already grappling with high number of refugees.
Charlotte Hallqvist, UNHCR external relations officer in South Sudan, said a thousand people have arrived at the camp in the last week. The new arrivals are occupying schools in the camp, but she said these are now full.
The camps, said said, lack many things. Inaccessible roads and armed conflict have slowed humanitarian aid. Desperate people are seeking refuge in villages along the rivers, she said. Flooding makes it difficult to leave those areas, and people seeking to flee need canoes to reach safety, she said.
The humanitarian community in South Sudan has strongly condemned the ongoing violence in Upper Nile State, saying the insecurity is hindering partners from saving those displaced by the fighting.