Juba — The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) says it was providing assistance to more than 23,000 South Sudanese refugees who fled to Uganda following violence outbreak in the new nation three weeks ago.
Some of the displaced people heading to the UN premises in Juba, December 17, 2013 (Photo: Moses Lomoyat)
Thousands of refugees, UNHCR said in a statement, were crossing in to Ugandan territories at a rate of up to 2,500 people daily.
"As of Monday, 23,546 South Sudanese refugees had arrived in Uganda", it noted, adding "We are grateful to the government of Uganda for recognizing all of them - as a group - as refugees".
With the help of its partners, UNHCR said it was struggling to provide enough water and adequate sanitation at transit and reception centres in Uganda's districts of Arua and Adjumani.
The UN refugee body, however, said it was over stretched given the influx of both South Sudanese and Congolese refugees in to Uganda as a result of violence in their regions.
Meanwhile, UNHCR said it was currently operating with a reduced staff of only 200 people because of the ongoing fighting and insecurity throughout much of the country.
"But we continue to supply services to some 230,000 existing refugees at 10 refugee camps in South Sudan - while we have also taking on increased responsibilities for the 57,000 civilians taking refuge in 10 UN compounds throughout the country", the agency said.
"We are helping lead efforts to protect especially vulnerable people like women and children. And we have brought in experts in areas such as site-planning and camp-management", it added.
In Upper Nile state's Maban county, UNHCR said only four of its international staff and 11 nationals were working with partners and some refugees to serve 120,000 people in four camps.
"They are making sure health services remain available, for example, and that water pumps are still working so refugees have access to both healthcare and clean water", it said.
Meanwhile, UNHCR further revealed it was preparing to return its personnel to Yida in Unity State, where three national staff and partners have been continuing to serve the 77,000 refugees in Yida and Ajuong Thok camps close to Sudanese border.
It however said the plan was contingent on the deployment of additional UN peacekeepers.
"Operating in Unity State remains dangerous and unpredictable", UNHCR said, adding that also lost six pick-up trucks, fuel, water pumps and spare parts after looted raided Yida.
South Sudan has now declared a state of emergency in Unity and Jonglei states, which remain under the control of rebels loyal to former vice-president Riek Machar.
The UN estimates that more than 1,000 people died and nearly 200,000 were displaced during the recent violence, which started last year in the capital, Juba.