Saturday, November 24, 2012

South Sudan: UN official spotlights ‘forgotten refugee crisis’

High Commissioner António Guterres (second right) speaks with a group of girls waiting to be registered at Yida settlement in South Sudan. Photo: UNHCR/K.Mahoney

UN - 23 November 2012 – A senior United Nations official today highlighted the need to assist some 60,000 displaced persons living in South Sudan’s largest refugee camp close to the border with Sudan, describing their situation as a forgotten crisis.

“This is the most threatening situation I have ever seen in a refugee camp. Not only because it is close to a war zone, but because of access – all things have to be brought in by plane,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres at the end of his three-day visit to South Sudan.

Since September, thousands of people have been prompted to flee Sudan’s South Kordofan state into South Sudan’s Yida settlement as a result of renewed fighting between Sudanese Armed Forces and the rebel group known as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA-North).

The influx of refugees almost ceased during the rainy season, when Yida becomes a virtual island due to its location on wetland, but according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), it is picking up strongly now that the season has ended.

During his visit, Mr. Guterres met with senior Government officials, including President Salva Kiir, to whom he appealed for a political solution to end the hostilities. He also met with refugees in Yida, and urged them to move to sites deeper in South Sudan located in healthier and safer environments.

“The people who arrive [in Yida] are dehydrated, malnourished, exhausted,” Mr. Guterres said, noting that most of the new arrivals are women and children, while almost 70 per cent of refugees are under the age of 18.

“The proximity of refugees in Yida to a volatile conflict zone raises grave concerns about the security of refugees,” said the UNHCR Representative in South Sudan, Mireille Girard. “This is the most dangerous refugee site in South Sudan.”

UNHCR has been looking at new sites in safer areas where it will be easier to provide aid and basic services, including health care and education. However, many refugees seem reluctant to move. Such is the case of Mariam Siluman, who fled with her husband and children after their home region came under air attack and their food ran out. In Yida, she has started a small garden next to their makeshift home. “We don’t want to go anywhere. We want to stay here,” she said.

New waves of refugees are also expected to continue as the dry season makes it easier for people to make the journey across the border, UNHCR said, adding that it is gearing up to help thousands more refugees.

“We will be doing everything we can to mobilize the capacity to respond to the needs of the people who have suffered so much,” Mr. Guterres said.