By: Kim Aine
Refugee flows from South Sudan into Uganda have doubled in the past ten days, bringing the total to more than 52,000 who have entered the country since violence escalated three weeks ago.
The country faced a new political crisis in early July when government forces clashed with then First Vice President, Dr Riek Machar’s men in Juba.
The fighting has been raging on especially in Equatoria since then.
Dr Machar’s rebels have since threatened to storm Juba, forcing thousands to flee the country.
According to United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Kenya has reported the arrival of 1,000 refugees in the same period, while 7,000 have fled to Sudan.
In total, 60,000 people have fled the country since violence broke out in Juba last month, bringing the overall number of South Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries since December 2013 to nearly 900,000.
The refugees bring disturbing reports that armed groups operating on roads to Uganda are preventing people from fleeing South Sudan.
New arrivals from Yei say they received letters warning them to evacuate the town in anticipation of conflict between rebel and government forces.
Refugees have also reported that armed groups operating across different parts of South Sudan are looting villages, murdering civilians and forcibly recruiting young men and boys in to their ranks.
“More than 85 per cent of the refugees arriving in Uganda are women and children under the age of eighteen,” said UNCHR in a statement to ChimpReports on Tuesday.
“Many children have lost one, or both of their parents. Most are from Eastern Equatoria, with smaller numbers from the capital Juba and Upper Nile state. Many took advantage of the opportunity to flee alongside Ugandan military convoys evacuating Ugandan nationals.”
Improving conditions and capacities at existing reception facilities in Uganda is a key priority.
Collection points in border areas have now been significantly decongested, although transit centres and reception centres remain severely stretched.
The humanitarian agency said efforts are underway to rapidly open a new 100,000 capacity refugee settlement area in Yumbe district.
Both Kenya and Uganda are reporting rising cases of severe malnutrition, particularly among very young children.
Those found to be suffering are being placed on food nourishment programmes to bring them back to health.
Inside South Sudan, where aid agencies are concerned about inability to provide urgent help to needy populations, the generalized collapse in the protection of civilians is also affecting many of the 250,000 refugees, mainly from Sudan, Ethiopia, and the DRC.
Since the outbreak of fighting in Juba, UNHCR access to 2,000 Ethiopian refugees living in Gorom camp near the capital has been severely curtailed, due to insecurity on the road and militarization of the area surrounding the camp, leaving them extremely vulnerable.
The camp is surrounded by military barracks; movements of soldiers through the camp and sporadic gunfire have still been reported by refugees.
In the Maban refugee camps in Upper Nile state, three Public Health Care Units were rendered temporarily non-functional after technical staff were stranded in Juba.
However, refugees were attended to other in some of the existing health facilities in the respective camps.
UNHCR is reminding all parties to the conflict in South Sudan of fundamental human right to seek asylum and urging them to ensure that civilians are provided with unhindered access to safety as the number of refugees crosses a worrying milestone.
With over 2.6 million of its citizens forcibly displaced, the world’s youngest nation currently ranks among the countries with the highest levels of conflict-induced population displacement globally. Half the population relies on humanitarian aid.