South Sudan refugees have officially hit the one million mark, with 20,000 trekking into Uganda every week.
According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), South Sudan has joined countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia in producing the highest number of displaced people both internally and externally.
UNHCR spokesman Leo Dobbs said over one million South Sudanese have crossed the border to neighboring countries such as Uganda, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Ethiopia and Central African Republic while over 1.61 million are internally-displaced.
“The number of South Sudanese refugees sheltering in neighbouring countries has this week [last week] passed the one million mark, including more than 185,000 people who have fled since fresh violence erupted in the country,” Dobbs told journalists in Geneva recently.
He said Uganda is hosting majority of these refugees, 373,626, more than a third of them having arrived since early July. The official added that every week more than 20,000 new arrivals are recorded. They come majorly through the Oraba crossing in the northwestern part of Uganda.
New arrivals report increased fighting across the Greater Equatoria region and attacks by armed groups that kill civilians, loot villages, sexually-assault women and girls, and recruit young boys,” Dobbs said.
NO FOOD, NO WATER
He further said that many refugees arrive exhausted after days of walking and going without food or water. Also, many of those crossing are children who have lost one or both of their parents with the bigger ones becoming the caregivers to their younger siblings.
UNHCR further reports that about 11,000 people, many of them from the Nuer tribe of the now exiled former vice president Dr Riek Machar, crossed into Gambella region in Ethiopia.
This region is primarily occupied by Ethiopian Nuer and Anyuak tribes, the same as those occupying Upper Nile, Jonglei and Unity States of South Sudan. Ethiopia currently hosts 292,000 South Sudanese refugees while 247,317 are living in Sudan.
Kenya has registered about 90,000 refugees while the DR Congo is also getting an influx into its Ituri province with an estimated 40,000 South Sudanese refugees said to be in the country, according to UNHCR.
South Sudan got independence from Sudan in 2011 but quickly descended into chaos in December 2013 after President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of fomenting a failed coup, which subsequently led to a civil war that lasted two and half years.
In August 2015, a peace agreement brokered by the regional body, Igad, was signed leading to the formation of a transitional government of national unity that saw Riek Machar reclaim his position as vice president while Salva Kiir maintained his as president.
However, less than three months later, the transitional government fractured beyond repair after forces loyal to the two protagonists clashed in Juba. Riek Machar fled Juba, the capital, after his forces were decimated by the air power of the government military.
Pleas for him to return fell on deaf eyes, which prompted Kiir to replace him as first vice president with General Taban Deng Gai, the former chief rebel negotiator in the Addis Ababa peace talks.