18/06/2012 – The clashes in Sudan are generating a stream of new refugees arriving in neighbouring South Sudan. Women, children and the elderly fleeing fighting in Sudan’s Blue Nile state are crossing the border into Maban County in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state. In less than a month, already more than 38,000 new refugees crossed the border and are calling for emergency humanitarian assistance.
Aid agencies are struggling to provide basic services and eventually transporting the refugees further inland into safer and better organised camps.
Thomas Conan visited the refugee camps in Maban county, Upper Nile state and brings us this account.
The conflict in Sudan Blue Nile has created a new refugee crisis in Maban county, Upper Nile state. Since November 2011, over 120,000 people have crossed the border to escape the fighting, including 38,000 over the last few weeks. Most are making their way to Maban county, passing through Hofra, a transit site 15 kilometres from the border.
When I visited Hofra in May, around five thousand people were arriving every day. Faced with a growing population, there is not enough food, clean water, shelter, sanitation and medical supplies at this transit site.
I saw women, children and the elderly, arriving with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. They told us that the journey across the border and into the camp was extremely difficult and is taking a huge toll especially on the elderly, the sick, and the young children. Children and those weakened either by disease or injuries, and elderly, are reportedly dying along the way. Most people that I spoke to had taken at least 20 days to reach Hofra.
Hofra is too close to the border, and aid agencies would prefer to relocate the refugees further south to the newly constructed Yusuf Batil camp. But the start of the rainy season is not only hampering the relocation but it is making it difficult to access the refugees. In addition, Yusuf Batil camp does not yet have sufficient water supply. Numerous teams have been exploring for water around the camp for months now, and only a couple of water points are available.
The more established Doro and Jaman camps, both about 45 kilometres from the border, are already full; even in Jaman people are getting between five and seven litres of water a day, half of the least recommended amount.
As a result many refugees remain stranded at the congested Hofra transit site, dangerously close to the fighting. In addition, reports indicate that between fifteen and twenty thousand people are at the border making their way into South Sudan.
With the growing numbers, a new camp is certainly necessary and negotiations for a site are ongoing. In the meantime, the European Commission Humanitarian Aid & Civil Protection department (ECHO) is working with partners to provide basic and life-saving services. For instance, through our funding, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is providing health services through medical clinics in each of the refugee camps.
Other partners are filling gaps in the food supplies, treating water to make it safe for drinking, and teaching safe hygiene practices in the camps.
Most of ECHO’s funding has come through the Emergency Preparedness and Response programme. Through this programme, the Commission funds partners to react swiftly to emerging and unforeseen crises.
Still, the humanitarian needs in South Sudan remain high. With the rainy season underway needs are growing and it is becoming harder and harder to reach those in need; not only the refugees, but also the vulnerable populations in many parts of the country.
By Thomas Conan
European Commission, one of ECHO’s experts based in Juba, South Sudan