UNHCR is extremely concerned about the tens of thousands of people caught up in or uprooted by the fighting in South Sudan.
Since deadly clashes between competing factions within the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM and SPLA) broke out in Juba on December 15, more than 180,000 South Sudanese have fled their homes and some 10,000 have crossed into neighbouring countries.
Continued fighting and insecurity make access to these people challenging, and in some cases impossible.
The conflict, which has now spread to seven of South Sudan's 10 states, has also made conditions more difficult for aid workers.
As a result, UNHCR has had to scale down operations in some regions though, despite the danger and difficulties, more than 200 of its national and international staff remain in South Sudan.
And together with partners, they are continuing to assess humanitarian needs and deliver aid to existing and new internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees within the country.
"The uninterrupted delivery of aid is crucial," said UNHCR Africa Operations Manager Oscar Mundia. "The safety of our staff and the people we serve comes first, of course, but we can also use our national and refugee networks to find alternative ways to provide assistance when it is absolutely necessary."
Inside the country, UNHCR is working in particular with the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to assist displaced people.
UNHCR efforts include helping to support more than 75,000 people sheltering at UNMISS bases in Juba, Bor, Pibor, Malakal and Bentiu. UNHCR and a partner, Africa Humanitarian Action, have delivered plastic sheets, sleeping mats and other aid items to 244 people taking shelter at St. Theresa's Roman Catholic Church in the Kator district of Juba and to some 250 people at the Juba way station.
In close coordination with other agencies on the ground, UNHCR staff are also working to identify any gaps in assistance so they can release additional non-food supplies from Juba as needed and when possible.
UNHCR has assigned a site planner to work closely with UNMISS to set up camps for displaced people at the UNMISS bases in Juba. This assistance can be extended to other sites as needed. UNHCR is also helping to lead inter-agency efforts on camp coordination and management in general, as well as on emergency shelter and non-food supplies.
UNHCR also leads the inter-agency protection cluster, which seeks to ensure the safety of vulnerable, displaced South Sudanese. Its staff take part in missions to assess and respond to the needs of these populations.
UNHCR continues to support the 210,000 refugees inside South Sudan, mainly from Sudan and mainly living in the north.
In Yida and Ajoung Thok refugee camps in Unity State, for example, it provides essential services such as food and water delivery to more than 75,000 people with the help of national staff and partners like Samaritan's Purse, the International Rescue Committee and the Danish Refugee Council.
Workers and volunteers from among the local and refugee communities also play a role in providing services. Healthcare continues in the form of both in-patient and out-patient care and the delivery and care for babies.
Refugee camps in Maban Country, Upper Nile State, also remain operational. For example, some 20 UNHCR staff plus partners have so far been able to carry out food distribution for 122,532 people in Doro (47,422), Yusuf Batil (39,033), Kaya (18,788) and Gendrossa refugee camps (17,289).
Since the fighting began, UNHCR staff in neighbouring countries have been preparing for the arrival of new refugees. As of December 30, a total of 4,693 South Sudanese had arrived in Ethiopia, 3,563 in Uganda, 950 in Kenya and at least several hundred in Sudan.
The fighting and insecurity mean that in some cases UNHCR staff and partners have limited or no access to border areas, such as between South Sudan and Sudan.
"That's why working with partners is vital," Mundia said. "We can monitor what is a fast-changing situation and confirm or dismiss reports of movements we may hear. We are also working with national governments to be ready to receive and assist the new refugees, offering them safety and protection."
One particular focus of UNHCR's work is child protection. Family members are sometimes separated and lost when they have to flee fighting rapidly or with little notice. So, among the activities UNHCR staff carry out are efforts to create child-friendly spaces at camps and to assist in family identification and reunification.
Overall, the situation remains critical in South Sudan, just two years after the country's independence. Along with the international community, UNHCR advocates for a peaceful, political end to the hostilities. And, until then, it calls for increased security and protection for displaced people, refugees and humanitarian workers.
For further information on this topic, please contact:
In Geneva, Daniel MacIsaac on mobile +41 79 200 7617
In Geneva, Babar Baloch on mobile +41 79 557 9106