Returnees and refugees from Sudan in Renk, Upper Nile State. (File photo)

IOM, UNHCR concerned about risks in relocating refugees and returnees from border areas

Two separate incidents have brought to the forefront the major challenges humanitarian agencies are facing in South Sudan, a joint IOM and UNHCR statement said earlier in the week.

Two separate incidents have brought to the forefront the major challenges humanitarian agencies are facing in South Sudan, a joint IOM and UNHCR statement said earlier in the week.

In the first incident, two refugees were tragically killed in an attack against a convoy organized by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) transporting Sudanese refugees from Abyei to the Wedweil refugee settlement. On the same day, a boat facilitated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) began taking on water due to high winds and rough water – all on board were moved to different boats and proceeded safely to Malakal.

According to the UN agencies, the two incidents highlight the considerable challenges that humanitarian partners are facing trying to help refugees and South Sudanese who are fleeing the fighting in Sudan to reach safety.

The boat began taking on water on Wednesday morning as it was attempting to leave the port of Kodok, in Upper Nile State. Local authorities and humanitarian partners immediately launched a rescue operation and all on board are now accounted for and safe, the joint statement said.

Since the start of the Sudan crisis in April, IOM has moved more than 105,000 people out of Renk by river and another 59,000 by plane to their final destinations across the country.

“Transport by river remains the only viable option to move returning South Sudanese arriving through the Joda Border Crossing Point to Malakal, and from there to their final destination,” said John McCue, IOM Chief of Mission in South Sudan. “The risks and challenges are huge but keeping people in Renk is not an option as reception sites are overcrowded and provision of basic services is stretched to breaking point.”

In the other incident, two refugees were abducted on Wednesday morning as they were crossing Twic County, Warrap State on their way from Abyei to the refugee settlement of Wedweil, near Aweil in Northern Bahr-e-Ghazal State onboard a UNHCR convoy. The vehicle carrying the two refugees was surrounded by armed youth who forced all onboard to alight and abducted two men, one 21-year-old, and the other – 62, both from Sudan’s Blue Nile State. Local authorities later reported that both of them had been found dead. The rest of the convoy made its way safely to Wedweil.

“This tragic and senseless incident puts into question our entire strategy to relocate refugees arriving in South Sudan through Abyei to a safe location in Wedweil, where we opened a new settlement to receive refugees fleeing the Sudan crisis,” said Marie-Helene Verney, UNHCR Country Representative, who is also currently serving as the acting Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan.

“Humanitarian partners have taken the lion’s share of the immensely challenging job of moving people in distress who arrived at the South Sudan border fleeing for safety, however, the responsibility of ensuring that returnees, refugees, and humanitarian workers are safe lies firmly with the South Sudan’s Government” she added.

Both agencies called for renewed efforts from the Government to facilitate transportation of refugees and returnees to safe locations.

According to the UN, more than 438,000 people have arrived in South Sudan to escape the conflict in Sudan since April, of which 365,000 South Sudanese and 71,000 refugees. More than 24,000 refugees are stuck in Renk to the refugee camps in Maban County, Upper Nile State due to the current conditions. The road from Maban to Renk has been destroyed by the rains and while UNHCR is currently working on repairs, it has been requesting that the relevant ministries, as well as the private sector, take their share of the works.