The number of South Sudanese refugees sheltering in neighbouring countries passed the one million mark this week amid renewed fighting in their homeland, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said Friday.
The UNHCR said over 185,000 people had fled South Sudan since the renewed fighting which erupted in the capital in Juba early July between forces led by President Salva Kiir and those loyal to former first vice president Riek Machar.
“Most of those fleeing South Sudan are women and children. They include survivors of violent attacks, sexual assault, children that have been separated from their parents or travelled alone, the disabled, the elderly and people in need of urgent medical care,” it said in a statement received in Juba.
This makes South Sudan join Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia as countries which have produced more than a million refugees.
Most of the recent refugees have crossed into Uganda. And a surge of people have entered western Ethiopia’s Gambella region in the past week with others heading to Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) and Central African Republic.
The UNHCR lauded these countries for keeping their doors open to the new arrivals.
The UNHCR said Uganda was hosting the lion’s share of South Sudanese refugees — 373,626 people, more than a third of them had arrived since early July.
“About 300 people a week have been crossing into Kenya… Kenya has over 90,000 South Sudanese refugees,” the UNHCR said.
DR Congo is hosting an estimated 40,000 South Sudanese refugees and experiencing an influx into its Ituri province close to the border with South Sudan and Uganda, according to the UNHCR.
The UNHCR has called on donors to provide 701 million US dollars for South Sudan refugee operations, of which 20 percent has been funded.
“Without further funding and support, we and our partners will struggle to assist the needy with even the most basic assistance,” the UNHCR said.
The July fighting came as a major setback to peace efforts in South Sudan which has been torn by a civil war between factions of Kiir and Machar that erupted in December 2013. A peace deal signed last August between the rival leaders led to the formation of a unity government in April, but failed to quell the latest violence, which caused new waves of displacement.
Humanitarian organizations say they are finding it very difficult for logistical, security and funding reasons in providing urgent protection and assistance to the hundreds of thousands in need, including 1.61 million internally displaced people.