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Sudan: UN struggles to cope with thousands of daily arrivals in South Sudan transit camps

Since the outbreak of fighting, the influx of people fleeing Sudan has increased sharply at multiple border points, and more than half a million individuals have crossed the South Sudan border, according to UN estimates.

At the UN-run transit centres in Renk, staff are helping exhausted individuals to travel onwards to their final destinations in the hope of avoiding large numbers staying in this extremely remote, poorly resourced part of the country.

Yvonne Ndege, a spokesperson with the UN migration agency, IOM, travelled to Renk to assess the conditions in the camp. 

She described the scene to Ben Malor from UN News.

Yvonne Ndege: This is one of the most remote parts of South Sudan. There’s hardly any water, food, sanitation, security or shelter. Many of the thousands of people who have crossed the border from Sudan are vulnerable and traumatized. They fled terrible violence and have spent weeks, in some cases months, trying to cross into South Sudan to reach safety.

UN News: How is the UN helping those arriving in Renk?

Yvonne Ndege: Hundreds of thousands of people have been assisted by the UN migration agency to continue moving to other destinations. This assistance is critical because what IOM and other UN agencies don’t want is for refugee camps to spring up in this location as it is so remote. There is no infrastructure, no medical facilities or resources of any kind for those vulnerable arrivals.

This has involved IOM putting on over 1,200 flights away from Renk to Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile state. It has also involved sea transportation, and we have helped over 100,000 to take boats to Malakal, which is a three-day journey overnight on the River Nile.

We have also assisted people with some road transportation to try to reach their communities of origin, but when you look at the volume of people arriving, this assistance is not enough, and the funds to continue to provide this onward transport assistance are dwindling and running out fast.

Sudanese refugees in the UN-run transit centre in Renk, South Sudan.
© IOM/Elijah Elaigwu

Sudanese refugees in the UN-run transit centre in Renk, South Sudan.

UN News: What have the displaced people been telling you about their experiences?

Yvonne Ndege: The conditions that they describe are completely horrific. Some say they fled violence and bullets, spending several days in the bush trying to reach the border. Others say they experienced sexual violence along the journey. We spoke to one family, a mother with her two daughters and her own mother, who travelled all the way from the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, to reach this border and cross into safety. She was very traumatized and upset. We spoke to another man, who said that his whole family, he and his sons, were being forced to actually join the fighting and take part in the violence. They didn’t want to, so they spent weeks trying to get here.

UN News: How serious are the risks of disease or hunger?

Yvonne Ndege: IOM staff have been providing medical checks and vaccinations to those arriving before they are transported to the main town of Renk for further assistance and care, but there are massive concerns about the risk of disease, hunger and further violence. There’s hardly any infrastructure in this remote area, no internet or mobile network of any kind and no food or water supplies. So, the risks are real.

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