05 Jun 12 28 Nov 16

South Sudan: No space for 30,000 new refugees

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) calls on the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) to identify a suitable place of refuge immediately for the 30,000 new refugees who have crossed the border from Sudan’s Blue Nile State into South Sudan’s Upper Nile State over the past two weeks. Jump to video

Around 2,000 people are crossing the border daily, in desperate need of humanitarian aid. They join the 70,000 refugees already hosted in the area who have fled fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the SPLM-North armed group

Empty ponds

"We have a real emergency on our hands,” says MSF’s emergency coordinator, Patrick Swartenbroekx. “We are providing medical care and treating and distributing 90,000 litres of water a day at their temporary gathering point. But the ponds here will be empty at the end of this week – after that the situation becomes really critical.”

Since December, water shortages have plagued the humanitarian response in the two refugee camps in this remote and barren part of Upper Nile State. Doro camp is almost full to capacity and in Jamam camp people have under 7 litres of water per day - less than half the minimum required standard in emergencies – and almost 40 percent of consultations in MSF’s clinic at the camp are for diarrhoea.

A long-discussed third refugee camp, at Yusuf Batil, is being prepared, but currently provides only enough water for three or four thousand refugees. With the existing camps either full or with insufficient water, there is an extremely pressing need for an alternative solution to be found.

Hiding in the bush for months

For now, the new refugees are gathered under trees at a place called Rum. Only a few have scraps of plastic sheeting for shelter. Since last week MSF has provided medical care for the most serious cases, including 214 consultations for diarrhoea and 34 for children with acute malnutrition.

The refugees are exhausted and have spent months in the bush hiding from the fighting. Many tell harrowing stories of the weak or injured falling by the wayside during the long walk, which took a minimum of two weeks, and for many took substantially longer.

“We walked with the whole family for more than 17 days with very little water or food,” says a father surrounded by his children.

"There are still many people on the road including a lot of older and weaker people. Many people are sick with diarrhoea.”

“A nightmare scenario is starting to unfold,” says Jean-Marc Jacobs, MSF’s deputy head of mission.

“For more than three months MSF has warned about the need to provide more water and to be prepared for further influxes of refugees. Well, now we have a situation that requires immediate and effective action from all organisations today.”

Space urgently needed

MSF will provide medical care for the new refugees, and will provide emergency water for the few days left before the water sources at Rum are empty. But during this time, we urge UNHCR and the other humanitarian organisations in Maban county to explore every avenue to find a place for these refugees.

The priority activities should be:

  • identification of sites that can host tens of thousands of refugees;
  • immediate provision of sufficient quantities of treated water;
  • urgently needed work on the roads providing access to the refugee camps as the rainy season will otherwise make access impossible; and
  • concrete plans backed up with appropriate resources for when further refugees arrive.

MSF in South Sudan

Since November 2011 MSF has been running a substantial emergency medical operation for the refugees in Upper Nile State. The team now counts more than 40 international staff and 250 local staff on the ground running two field hospitals and providing more than 3,000 consultations a week. The team also runs mobile clinics to the border crossing points and undertakes water treatment and distribution as an emergency life-saving measure.

Find out more about MSF's work in South Sudan