GENEVA - The U.N. refugee agency reports new fighting and severe food shortages in previously peaceful areas of South Sudan are causing thousands of people to flee into neighboring countries.
About 2.3 million people have been forced to flee their homes since civil war broke out in South Sudan in December 2013. More than 670,000 are refugees in neighboring countries.
The U.N. refugee agency warns refugee numbers are rising in all of South Sudan's neighbors as fighting spreads to formerly peaceful areas of Northern Bahr el-Ghazal and Warrap States.
The agency says the new refugees create a huge burden in the asylum countries. It says the UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies are short of cash, putting life-saving services for the refugees at risk.
The UNHCR reports an estimated 52,000 South Sudanese have fled into Sudan since January, exceeding planning projections for this year.
Spokeswoman Arian Rummery says Uganda too has seen a sharp increase in new refugees since January, with as many as 800 people a day arriving.
“Altogether, 28,000 South Sudanese have sought refuge in Uganda and 86 percent of those are women and children ,” said Rummery. "A particular site where they are being sheltered, the Maaji III in the north-west of the country is almost near capacity and basic life-saving services are severely overstretched.”
Ethiopia hosts some 285,000 South Sudanese refugees, more than any other country. Rummery says more South Sudanese have arrived in recent weeks after a long period in which very few crossed the border. She tells VOA many of the newcomers are children.
“Many of the new arrivals into Ethiopia from South Sudan are, in fact, unaccompanied and separated children and they fled intra-ethnic clashes in Pochalla in the eastern part of South Sudan and many of them trekked through jungles for several days before reaching Okugo,” said Rummery.
The UNHCR reports a similar spike in South Sudanese refugees in Democratic Republic of Congo, where 12,000 people have arrived in the past few months.
Northeastern Kenya and the Central African Republic are also recording new arrivals from South Sudan. The UNHCR says the number in Kenya has risen from an average of 100 people a month early this year to 350 people a week during the past two months.
The refugees say they are fleeing insecurity, intense drought and the high cost of living.