UN Concerned Over Refugee Safety as Fighting Persists Near South Sudan-Sudan Border

GENEVA–(ENEWSPF)–27 March 2012.  The United Nations refugee agency today voiced concern over recurring fighting near the Yida refugee settlement in South Sudan, close to the border with Sudan, saying the clashes are putting residents of the camp at risk.

“Our concerns are heightened by clashes reported yesterday between the national armies of Sudan and South Sudan in Lake Jau and other border areas,” a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Melissa Fleming, told reporters in Geneva.

Tensions between the two countries over unresolved border disagreements have continued to simmer, and heavy fighting in the Sudanese states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile has led to a humanitarian crisis and triggered massive displacement. UNHCR and its partners are providing basic assistance to more than 16,000 refugees who settled in Yida after fleeing violence in the Nuba Mountains region, located in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan state.

The agency is in regular discussions with refugee leaders in Yida about “the urgent need to relocate in order to avoid civilian casualties among a population that has already endured a great deal of trauma,” Ms. Fleming said.

In February, the refugee agency carried out a full registration of the settlement’s inhabitants, as well as a nutrition survey and a comprehensive measles vaccination campaign for children. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has distributed food rations.

“UNHCR considers that Yida refugee settlement is not safe for long-term stay due to its proximity to the volatile border zone,” Ms. Fleming said, adding that South Sudan’s national and local authorities have also called for the refugees to move away from the border. However, the refugees’ leaders have said that they would rather stay in Yida because of its proximity to their homes in the Nuba Mountains.

“We cannot ignore the fact that Yida is near a heavily militarized zone with recurrent fighting and bombing,” said Ms. Fleming. “Yida itself came under aerial attack in November last year, causing refugees to flee into the bush. In December, artillery shells fell close to the camp.”

Some 2,300 refugees have so far moved southwards to safer sites in Nyeel and Pariang, where UNHCR is providing them with food, water, shelter, sanitation and health care. Refugee leaders also agreed to the relocation of children, recognizing their need for safety and formal education.

About 1,500 secondary school students have registered to attend school in Pariang. Some 450 local and refugee children are attending primary school together in Nyeel, where the authorities have provided land for cultivation. Seeds and tools have been distributed to refugee families for farming.

Meanwhile, in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state, where an influx of refugees from Sudan’s Blue Nile state is continuing, relocation from border zones has been ongoing. About 86,000 Sudanese refugees fleeing attacks in Blue Nile state have relocated to the safety of sites in Doro and Jammam, Ms. Fleming said.

In total, more than 105,000 Sudanese refugees from the states of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile have sought refuge South Sudan. Another 30,000 refugees fled Blue Nile into Ethiopia.

South Sudan currently hosts the peacekeeping operation known as the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), which is helping to consolidate peace and security and establish conditions for development there following the country’s independence from Sudan in July 2011.

Source: un.org