News24

Sudanese refugee spike to South worries UN

2012-06-05 09:57

Geneva - The UN refugee agency warned on Monday that a spike in refugees arriving in South Sudan after weeks of deadly fighting along the disputed frontier with Sudan was deepening a humanitarian crisis.

About 35 000 refugees have arrived in the Upper Nile State in the past three weeks on foot from Sudan's Blue Nile State, joining the 70 000-strong refugee population already there.

According to the United Nations, there are already about 150 000 Sudanese refugees in the South.

"This is a dramatic change in an already difficult humanitarian situation," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, who described the condition of the new arrivals as "shockingly bad".

"Some have been eating tree leaves to survive along the way", he said.

"Pressure is enormous," Guterres said. "Despite the rain, this is an area where there's simply not enough safe drinking water; This, and the security situation, makes it all the more urgent that people are relocated fast to better protected places."

Sudan and South Sudan fought a bloody civil war that ended with a peace deal in 2005 after more than 20 years of fighting. Juba split from the North in July, taking with it 75% of the region's oil.

The two sides remain at loggerheads over a number of issues, including oil-transit fees and border demarcation.

Medical charity Medecins sans Frontieres or Doctors Without Borders echoed the concerns.

Continuing fighting on the border has led to up to about 2 000 new refugees arriving in Upper Nile State daily and MSF called on the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to locate them further away from the border.

Two existing camps in Upper Nile State, Doro and Jamam, are almost full and the need for fresh water and medical care is urgent. A third camp is under construction in Yusuf Batil.

"We need help urgently," said MSF emergency co-ordinator Patrick Swartenbroex, who said that despite providing up to 90 000 litres of water a day, the wells were likely to dry up by the end of the week.

"When that happens, the situation will become critical," he added.