Thousands of South Sudanese fleeing violence have crossed into neighbouring Uganda, where officials say resources and land to meet their needs are in short supply.
“We had not expected this. We are struggling to handle the situation. The influx entails resources. These people need shelter, food, water, basic necessities and treatment. Some of them have injuries which need treatment,” Musa Ecweru, Uganda’s state minister for relief, disaster preparedness and refugees, told IRIN.
As of 1 January, some 7,580 South Sudanese had entered Uganda. Since fighting broke out on 15 December, around 194,000 people have been displaced within South Sudan.
“We are [planning on] re-opening our former refugee camps in Rhino and Dzaipi [in the northwestern districts of Arua and Adjumani] to put these people in. But the community members are resisting. We are negotiating with them to allow us to use their land to settle these people,’ said Ecweru.
Thousands of these camps’ former residents returned home after South Sudan became an independent state in 2011.
“It would be good if the communities give up the land,” said Mohamed Adar, Uganda Representative of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
“We have good infrastructure built on those areas. At least we would start from there and build on.”
Four reception centres have been opened for the refugees: in Keri in Koboko district, Rhino in Arua, Dzaipi in Adjumani at the Uganda-South Sudan border near Nimule, and one at Entebbe Airport.
“At the moment we have to transport these refugees to our government land in Kiryandongo which is too far and expensive,” said Ecweru.
Adar said resources had been further stretched by the arrival of refugees from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the wake of clashes between DRC government army and the Allied Democratic Forces, a rebel group of Ugandan origin based in DRC.
Some 2,000 DRC refugees fled into Uganda’s western district of Bundibugy since 25 December 2013, when ADF attacked army positions at Kamango, near the DRC-Uganda border. Around 40 people were killed and 150,000 displaced by the fighting.
“The influx is coming at the beginning of the year. We are yet to receive resources for our 2014 operations. This is now the stage where we require substantial resources to gear up our operations to respond to the refugee influx,” said Adar.
“It’s a very fast- moving and dynamic situation. We are experiencing significant spike of refugees fleeing the fighting in South Sudan. We are now receiving about 1,000 people per day. We expect to surpass 10,000 by Friday [3 January],” he said.
Fighting was continuing in South Sudan on 2 January, notably in Jonglei State’s main town of Bor and in Unity State.
Meanwhile, delegations from the government and rebels were preparing for negotiations in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.