Refugee camps in South Sudan are reaching maximum capacity as hundreds of refugees escape the bombs and bullets of the war-torn Nuba Mountains in Sudan.

According to the United Nations these numbers can exceed 500 people a week, which is an over 100 per cent increase from the same period last year.

This is exacerbating a growing humanitarian crisis in a region ravaged by civil war.

William Spindler, spokesman at the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that;

‘Since 23 December last year, more than 3,000 refugees from South Kordofan and Blue Nile States have arrived at Yida border town, a spontaneous settlement in South Sudan’s Unity State already sheltering some 80,000 Sudanese refugees.

‘If the current rate of arrivals continues, more than 15,000 refugees may arrive by June 2015 and UNHCR is concerned that current funding may be inadequate to meet the needs of additional refugees, exceeding the original planning figure of 25,000’.

Although violence in the region is the reason for these movements, poor living standards and a lack of educational and job opportunities are also motivators.

It is estimated that 10 per cent of the refugees, nearly 70 per cent of whom are children suffer from malnutrition and measles.

At the town of Yida which is on the Sudan/South Sudan border, a camp run by Africa Humanitarian Action and the International Red Cross, provide initial assistance to new arrivals, giving hot meals and measles vaccination.

Refugees are then registered and identified by the United Nations to help with access to further assistance. More than 80 per cent of new arrivals are then transported to another camp in Ajuong Thok to ease the overcrowding in Yida.

However this camp has received 18,000 refugees and only has a 25,000 capacity, meaning that at current rates of influx it is weeks away from crisis point.

In response the UN and South Sudan government are working to set up a new camp to provide education and shelter to refugees, and to improve infrastructure.

Since 2013 South Sudan has been ravaged by civil war and is currently home to nearly 250,000 refugees and more than 1.8 million internally displaced people.

It is also estimated that more than 400,000 have fled to neighbouring countries, namely Kenya, Sudan, Uganda and Ethiopia.

These people are now largely dependent upon humanitarian aid for survival, but furthermore continuing violence could also increase the chance of famine in the area, as the displacement of people means that they are unable to plant, grow and harvest crops.

National insecurity and other logistical constraints such as heavy rains hamper food and other essential aid from being delivered, worsening the situation.

Violence and ethnic tensions within the camps also endanger humanitarian workers, six of whom were killed in a refugee-hosting area in August 2014. They are also being accused by the Juba government of sheltering rebels and such friction is hampering progress.

Country Profile

South Sudan was granted independence in 2011 after a referendum and is recognised by the United Nations. This was only six years after the 2005 peace deal which ended Sudan’s 22-year civil war. Its capital Juba is in the south of the country.

Tensions in the region have been long going. When Sudan was preparing for independence from Britain and Egypt in 1956, southern leaders accused authorities in Khartoum of attempting to build an Islamic Arab identity.

It was believed that independence would be built upon a federal system so when the above appeared to be happening, southern army officers mutinied and a civil war broke out in 1955.

In 1972, a peace agreement was reached where the south was granted some autonomy. However the south erupted in rebellion when Khartoum cancelled the agreement.

Led by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and its armed wing the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, 22 years of guerrilla warfare ensued costing 1.5 million lives and leaving 4 million displaced.

The 2005 peace agreement granted the south regional autonomy with guaranteed representation in the national government. This agreement provided for the referendum on independence in 2011 when over 99 per cent voted in favour to split from Sudan.

It is an oil rich region but with a notoriously underdeveloped economy. It is a landlocked nation with vast grasslands, swamps and tropical rainforests which run along either side of the White Nile.

Continuing border tensions with Sudan endure and are largely caused by disputes between pro-South Sudanese farmers and Arab herdsmen. This is intensified in the region of Abyei, where a referendum on whether to join the north or south is delayed due to issues regarding voter eligibility.

Ethnic tensions exist within the nation as well as on the borders.

The current civil war began on the 15th of December 2013, when opposition leaders voted to boycott a meeting of the National Liberation Council. President Salva Kiir ordered the commander of the Presidential Guard to leave the venue and return to the barracks to disarm all ethnicities with the guard.

The order was carried out but after completion the commander ordered the rearmament of the ethnic Dinka members. His ethnic Nuer deputy questioned the order and soon a confrontation broke out between army officers.

Soon Nuer elements rearmed and fighting broke out between these elements and escalated throughout the night when Dinka members of the guard attacked Nuer civilians in the capital Juba.

Although there is no evidence that it was a coup attempt, President Salva Kiir called it so and ordered it to be put down. However violence erupted and spread throughout the region already prone to ethnic tension.

Violence spread throughout 2014 with several Nuer rebel elements emerging accusing the Juba government of being Dinka-dominated. In response Salva Kiir has accused the rebels of being armed by Sudan, which Sudan denies.

United Nations humanitarian efforts have been hampered with the Juba government insisting that armed elements should be allowed into its camps and accusing the UN of sheltering opposition forces.

It is estimated that tens of thousands have been killed with nearly 1.8 million internally displaced.

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