With more and more people fleeing the ongoing conflict in South Sudan, the United Nations refugee agency said today it is setting up new camps and expand existing ones in neighbouring Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya to cope with the influx of refugees.
Since conflict erupted in the world's youngest nation in mid-December, more than 86,000 South Sudanese have crossed into neighbouring countries, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
"With people still arriving at a rate of around 1,000 a day, we are looking at the prospect of refugee numbers exceeding 100,000 by the end of January," UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva.
Inside South Sudan, people are reported to have moved to border areas, where they can cross to neighbouring countries should the situation further deteriorate, the agency noted. Just inside Uganda at Nimule, there are now thousands of people.
Others are reported in areas bordering Sudan and its neighbouring regions of East Darfur, South and West Kordofan.
According to Government data, there are now 46,579 South Sudanese refugees in Uganda. Ethiopia has so far received 20,624, and Kenya at least 8,900.
An estimated 10,000 people have also crossed into Sudan's South and West Kordofan states, which are themselves facing armed violence. The Sudanese Government has registered 1,371 of them as refugees while the rest are mostly nomads.
UNHCR is urging partners to assist in building up the settlements for the arriving refugees, most of whom are under the age of 18. It currently needs $88 million to respond to the humanitarian crisis inside South Sudan as well as in the surrounding region.
Overall, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that nearly half a million people are estimated to have been displaced by the fighting that began on 15 December in South Sudan.
Aid organizations have reached over 200,000 people in the country with aid so far, including food for more than 160,000 people in six states, while hundreds of children have received nutrition supplements.
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) today expressed its deep concern about the use of children as combatants in South Sudan, after receiving "credible" reports that children are participating in the conflict.
Marixie Mercado, UNICEF spokesperson in Geneva, said that although the agency is unable to confirm precise numbers of children involved in the fighting, it urged all parties not to use or allow children to be used in the fighting, and to immediately release any children.
Meanwhile, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), which is providing protection for nearly 70,000 civilians at its bases around the country, said that it has conducted more than 140 patrols in the past 24 hours.
In the capital, Juba, the Mission's health workers at its Tomping site said their medical capacity is severely overstretched.
The site was built to treat UN staff, but is now handling pregnancies, deliveries and children's diseases. As of today, there are nearly 30,000 civilians who have sought shelter at two bases in Juba.
The Mission's operations have been obstructed, including deliberate restrictions and delays in delivering rations and water to troops and civilians in its bases in Juba and in Western Equatoria state.
UNMISS reminded all parties that, as the Security Council has said, efforts to undermine the Mission's ability to implement its mandate, as it seeks to protect civilians, will not be tolerated.