The United Nations today is warning against the return of 130,000 South Sudanese who have fled to neighbouring countries due to the continued violence despite last month's ceasefire accord between Government and opposition forces.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is recommending that States refrain from returning South Sudanese to the country unless cases involve people who may have committed serious human right violations, spokesperson Melissa Fleming told a news briefing in Geneva today.
"UNHCR's advisory against forced returns to South Sudan remains in effect until security, rule of law and the human rights conditions improve enough to allow for safe and dignified returns," she said.
The advisory was issued yesterday, the same day that the Council called for fully inclusive talks to end the crisis, in which thousands of people are believed to have been killed and some 870,000 others have been driven from their homes, 738,000 of them internally displaced, since fighting broke out on 15 December between the forces of President Salva Kiir and deputy president Riek Machar.
Talks are currently underway in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, mediated by led by the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
Ms. Fleming said that in light of continuing violence, people fleeing South Sudan are likely to meet the criteria for refugee status under international and regional conventions, and she hailed the decision of most regional Governments to recognize them as refugees on a prima facie basis.
The refugees have fled primarily to Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda, and UNHCR welcomes the generous response of these countries and their cooperation with the agency and its humanitarian partners. It called on other countries to do the same and facilitate access for aid.
Nearly 60 per cent of those internally displaced have sought refuge in or around UN bases in South Sudan, with some 75,250 on the bases themselves.
On a related issue, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), whose authorized strength the Council doubled to nearly 14,000 uniformed personnel when the crisis erupted, is warning against the recruitment of child soldiers, and has intensified its monitoring of the occurrence throughout the country.
The Mission meanwhile says that overcrowding of protection of civilian sites in the country is a major challenge for the United Nations and the humanitarian community. According to a UN spokesperson, with the rainy season approaching, there is great concern that these sites will become breeding grounds for disease outbreaks and epidemics.
"To address this, the Mission says that the Government of South Sudan has accepted a Chinese donation to build a new protection of civilians site in Juba, adjacent to the UN House," said Martin Nesirky in New York, adding that construction, with the assistance of UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS), has already begun, and is expected to be completed before the start of the rainy season.
Emergency funding from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has been made available for this project.
Additionally, the UN House, which hosts some 15,000 civilians, will also be expanded.
Overall, UNMISS is protecting approximately 75,000 civilians in a number of bases around the country, he said.