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Renewed aerial bombings in Sudan are forcing more refugees across the borders into South Sudan and Ethiopia

© UNHCR/P.Rulashe

Sudanese refugees rest next to their UNHCR tent inside South Sudan.

UNHCR strongly condemned the bombing of a refugee site in Unity State, South Sudan on 10 November. Several bombs dropped by an aircraft in the Yida area impacted a temporary camp that shelters over 20,000 refugees who have recently fled violence in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan's Southern Kordofan State. Two bombs fell within the Yida camp, including one close to the school.  Fortunately there were no casualties in the camp and UNHCR is in the process of verifying the situation of surrounding communities.

UNHCR is concerned by the escalating tensions in the border areas between Sudan and South Sudan where hundreds of thousands of civilians have been uprooted since June as a result of fighting. It is hoped that the relocation of refugees to camps further away from the border could start soon, but efforts have so far been hampered by the heavy rains which have made the road to the camp impassable.  

As many as 55,000 civilians are reportedly moving southwards through Sudan’s Blue Nile State with some crossing the border into South Sudan’s Maban county. New arrivals who reached safety in Maban describe completely empty villages south of Kurmuk town on the other side of the border. The new arrivals are being registered in Bunj town where UNHCR already has a way station, as well as a warehouse that currently holds enough supplies for 15,000 refugees.  

UN assessment teams are planning to travel to Maban to assess the humanitarian conditions of new arrivals. Meanwhile, local authorities have been identifying temporary reception sites as more arrivals are anticipated amid heightened tensions.    

The aerial bombings are also driving refugees from Sudan across the border into Ethiopia, where some 30,000 Sudanese have already sought refuge and are being helped by UNHCR and its partners. The new arrivals at the Kirmuk border post – considered the busiest of the several crossing points in the area– are mostly women, children and the elderly. They tell us they fled bombings by planes in an area between Kurmuk and the Blue Nile capital, Damazine. There are also reports that armed militia on the Sudanese side of the Kurmuk border have warned the community to leave the area, possibly in preparation for a ground offensive.

Some of the new arrivals said they had been walking for up to three weeks. One man arrived with shrapnel wounds and was taken to hospital. Other refugees said they lived for several weeks in the bush before making the 64-km journey to Kurmuk. Refugees also reported abductions of women and girls by armed militia, and that two girls had died after having been repeatedly raped.
 
Given the current situation in Blue Nile State, even more refugees are expected to arrive in Ethiopia. Refugees are being encouraged to relocate to Tongo camp, about 200 km from Kurmuk. Others are at the Sherkole camp, or among host communities near the border. UNHCR estimate that 28,700 refugees have fled Blue Nile State since fighting began in early September.
 
UNHCR is working with the Ethiopian authorities to expand Tongo camp in anticipation of a further influx. With ongoing construction Tongo will be able to host some 7,000 refugees. Together with its government counterpart, the Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) and the President of the Benishangul-Gumuz Regional State, UNHCR is investigating the feasibility of additional camp sites.

UNHCR has appealed for US$10 million to meet the urgent needs of refugees from Blue Nile State and to support Ethiopia at a time when it is also hosting more than 174,000 Somali refugees (90,000 of whom arrived this year). So far UNHCR has received only five percent, or USD 500,000, of the Sudan emergency appeal, and is urging the international community to step up its response to this growing crisis.