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Humanitarian crisis warning as thousands flee fighting

SPLM-N fighter standing in front of traditional tukul hut and mudded up rebel vehicle in Blue Nile state
SPLM-N fighter standing in front of traditional tukul hut and mudded up rebel vehicle in Blue Nile state (Hannah McNeish/IRIN)

Aid agencies must now plan for worsening humanitarian conditions in Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile states where ongoing conflict pitting the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) against the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) has resulted in the mass displacement of civilians towards South Sudan’s Unity and Upper Nile states and into neighbouring Ethiopia.

Since early July 2011, some 20,000 refugees have fled South Kordofan and another 30,000 have fled Blue Nile state to South Sudan, Mireille Girard, the representative for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in South Sudan, told IRIN. This was preceded by the spontaneous return of 12,000 South Sudanese living in Blue Nile following the outbreak of violence there.

Another 36,000 Sudanese refugees are estimated to have arrived in Ethiopia from Blue Nile State since September, according to a bulletin by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which added that the re-taking by the SAF of the Blue Nile towns of Kurmuk and Geissan had led to an increase in the number of refugees crossing into Ethiopia at the beginning of November.

"Given the continued denial of [humanitarian] access to South Kordofan and Blue Nile States, we must now plan for a major deterioration in the condition of people there, including rising malnutrition, food insecurity and the dangers of unexploded ordnance and landmines," Valerie Amos, UN Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said in a 6 December statement.

Fighting “raging”

Refugees in Unity State are in Pariang County in Yida, which borders South Kordofan.

Yida is also not far from Jaw, where fighting between the SAF and SPLA/N is raging, said Girard, adding that “the situation in Yida remains complex as the fighting in Jaw intensifies.

“Repeated evacuations in recent weeks have led to temporary interruptions of assistance and reduction of staffing levels in the settlement,” she said. “Further bombing of Yida or ground fighting affecting the settlement are a very real possibility.”

Some 60 to 110 new arrivals from Southern Kordofan continue to reach Yida every day, but due to the insecurity, refugees have been asked to move away from the border where basic services are being provided. In Upper Nile, refugees have been arriving at a pace of 650 per day for the past two weeks, according to UNHCR.

The presence of newly laid mines in Pariang County of Unity State and former mine fields in Maban County in Upper Nile are a threat to refugee movements.

Besides the refugee influx into the remote border regions, recent bombings in the New Guffa and Yida areas, which are entry points for refugees into Unity and Upper Nile states, have worsened insecurity.

“We plan to organize the relocation of refugees to these locations as soon as conditions permit,” she said.

Access challenges

Despite accessibility challenges, she said, a coordinated response to the influx is being organized with food, water, healthcare, relief supplies and protection being provided.

“The readiness of South Sudan’s government to provide support to the new arrivals, coupled with the immediate humanitarian response, has so far prevented this from becoming a humanitarian crisis.”

But more resources are needed to organize a sustained response. “The high number of new arrivals requires the concurrent development of refugee settlements in various locations,” she said. “The conflict is not expected to end soon and the lack of infrastructure in this newly independent country makes any humanitarian response highly costly.”

According to ERC Amos, "The fighting in South Kordofan and Blue Nile must stop. We have had disturbing reports that aerial and artillery bombardments in the past few days have endangered thousands of people on the border between Sudan and South Sudan. Until the fighting ceases, everything must be done to ensure the protection of civilians caught in the middle of the conflict."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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