At least 4,000 South Sudanese have been fleeing to Uganda daily since war broke out almost three weeks ago, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has said.
“The situation is extremely worrying. Daily arrivals were averaging around 1,500 10 days ago but have risen to more than 4,000 in the past week. Further surges in arrivals are a real possibility,” UHNCR’s Charlie Yaxley said in a statement to journalists.
Some of the women and children told us they were separated from their husbands or fathers by armed groups
Yaxley said so far 37,890 South Sudanese have fled their country into Uganda due to the fighting in South Sudan that broke out on July 8 between rival factions loyal to President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, who leads rebels and was on Monday replaced as the country’s vice president.
In the past three weeks alone, there have been more refugee arrivals in Uganda than in the entire first six months of 2016, which counted 33,838 refugees.
“Yesterday (Monday) an estimated 2,442 refugees were received in Uganda from South Sudan. A total of 1,213 crossed at the Elugu Border Point in Amuru, 247 in Moyo, 57 in Lamwo, and 370 in Oraba. Another 555 were received in Kiryandongo Settlement. The majority of arrivals – more than 90 per cent – are women and children,” Yaxley said.
He said most refugees were from South Sudan’s Eastern Equatoria region, as well as from the capital Juba.
While the intensity of the violence in South Sudan has subsided since early July, the security situation remains volatile.
The new arrivals in Uganda reported there was ongoing fighting, while armed militias looted and burnt down homes and murdered civilians.
“Some of the women and children told us they were separated from their husbands or fathers by armed groups, who are reportedly forcibly recruiting men into their ranks and preventing them from crossing the border,” he said.
The influx is putting serious strain on the capacity of collection points, and transit and reception centres, which are too small for the swelling number of arrivals.
At its peak, more than 11,000 refugees were staying in Elegu, northern Uganda, in a compound equipped to shelter only 1,000 people. Many of the refugees have been moved to the Nyumanzi Transit Centre, while others have been taken to expanded reception centres in Pagirinya.
The humanitarian response to the influx of South Sudanese refugees is sorely lacking due to severe underfunding.
The inter-agency appeal is only funded at 17 per cent, which is constraining UNHCR and its partners to only providing emergency and life-saving activities and causing limitations to the full breadth of humanitarian assistance that can be offered.
South Sudan’s conflict, which erupted in December 2013, has produced one of the world’s worst displacement situations.
Some 1.69 million South Sudanese are displaced internally, while outside the country there are now 831,582 South Sudanese refugees, mainly in Ethiopia, Sudan, and Uganda.