UN: UNHCR says South Sudan refugees hit one million

New York, US (PANA) - As instability and violence persist in South Sudan, the number of South Sudanese seeking safety and shelter in neighbouring countries has crossed the one million mark, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday.

UNHCR spokesperson Leo Dobbs said: "Most of those fleeing South Sudan are women and children. They include survivors of violent attacks, sexual assault, children that have been separated from their parents or travelled alone, the disabled, the elderly and people in need of urgent medical care."

He told journalists that more than 185,000 people fled the country since fresh violence violence erupted in the country's capital, Juba, in early July.

"With this sombre milestone," he said, "South Sudan is now the fourth country in the world with more than one million refugees."

The other three are Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia.

In terms of numbers, Uganda (373,626) accounts for the largest share of South Sudanese refugees. More than a third of them arrived since the most recent violence broke out. Ethiopia (292,000) and Sudan (247,317) are the second and third largest hosts to people fleeing South Sudan.

"Smaller numbers have also fled to Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Central African Republic (CAR) since July. About 300 people a week have been crossing into Kenya, which now has over 90,000 South Sudanese refugees. Some 40,000 refugees are estimated in DRC," Dobbs stated.

The UNHCR spokesperson also reported that the new arrivals spoke of increased fighting and attacks by armed groups that kill civilians, loot villages, sexually assault women and girls, and recruit young boys.

"Many refugees arrive exhausted after days walking in the bush and going without food or water. Many children have lost one or both of their parents, some forced to become primary caregivers to younger siblings," he noted.

The recent violence was a major setback to peace efforts in the country, including a short-lived peace deal between supporters of President Salva Kiir and former First Vice President Riek Machar. The long-standing political rivalry between the two initially erupted into full blown conflict in late 2013.

“The fighting has shattered hopes for a real breakthrough and triggered new waves of displacement and suffering,” Dobbs added, saying that humanitarian organizations were finding it very difficult to provide urgent protection and assistance to the hundreds of thousands in need, including 1.61 million internally displaced people, due to logistical, security and funding reasons.

As for the situation on the ground, the UNHCR spokesperson said that new arrivals were camped in schools and churches, but many have to sleep in the open. Refugees also lack food and basic household items.

Dobbs also reported that insecurity in South Sudan’s Central Equatoria province has significantly affected the UN agency’s ability to access and assist thousands of refugees inside the country itself.

"Without further funding and support, we and our partners will struggle to assist the needy with even the most basic assistance," he said, calling on donors to provide US$701 million for South Sudan refugee operations, of which 20 per cent has been funded.
-0-  PANA  AA/AR  16Sept2016

16 september 2016 17:48:36

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