By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
May 7, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – Thousands of South Sudanese refugees have poured into neighbouring Ethiopia after government forces on Sunday took control of the rebel stronghold of Nasir in the Greater Upper Nile region, the United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday.
In a statement, UNHCR said that at least 11,000 South Sudanese refugees crossed the border into Ethiopia over the past 72 hours.
UNHCR officials told Sudan Tribune that the newly arriving refugees are mostly women and children from the Nuer ethnic group from the city of Nasir and surrounding areas.
“The vast majority of new arrivals are still women and children, but we are also seeing an increasing number of men fleeing,” UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards.
Sources said the new wave of mass Nuer migration was in fear of ethnic targeted attacks from government forces, who are largely from president Salva Kiir’s Dinka tribe.
The refugees crossed the Baro River which marks the border with Ethiopia and are temporarily sheltered in a remote town of Burubiey near the South Sudanese border before they are relocated to camps deeper inside Ethiopia.
“The refugees tell us that more people are on their way, with many amassed on the South Sudanese side of the border waiting to cross the river on one of the few small ferry boats,” Edwards said.
The UNHCR official said some of the newly-arrived refugees were wounded and aid agencies were rushing to supply food and medical supplies.
The UN refugee agency said it is dispatching a team from the nearby Leitchuor refugee camp to Burubiey to help the relocation operation, while giving priority to people with urgent health and nutrition needs.
As well as from South Sudan, Ethiopia hosts large numbers of refugees from Somalia Eritrea, Sudan and other neighbouring countries.
Officials have told Sudan Tribune the latest mass migration will further strain the already limited resources of aid organisations and raise concerns of a severe humanitarian crisis across the camps which are already over their holding capacities.
“The inter-agency appeal for the South Sudanese Refugee Emergency remains dramatically underfunded, with only 14 per cent of the requested US$370 million appeal received. As the number of displaced people continues to rise, we expect to increase our appeal in the coming days,officials told Sudan Tribune,” said Edwards.
Since conflict in South Sudan erupted in mid-December, more than 110,000 refugees have fled South Sudan to Ethiopia.
Around 102,000 of whom have gone through Level-1 registration are staying at four camps in Ethiopia’s western Gambella Regional State, run by UNHCR and its local implementing partner, the Administration for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA).
The conflict which has at times taken on an ethnic dynamic, pitting members of Kiir’s Dinka tribe against Machar’s Nuer have left thousands killed and forced more than 1.3 million flee their homes.
According to UNHCR, as well as the South Sudan refugees in Ethiopia, 205,000 refugees have fled to neighbouring Uganda, Sudan and Kenya while some 923,000 people are displaced inside South Sudan.