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14,000+ refugees forced to return to South Kordofan: FEWS

November 18 - 2016 UNITY / KHARTOUM
Yida camp residents in February 2015 (Karin Ekholm/MSF)
Yida camp residents in February 2015 (Karin Ekholm/MSF)

More than 14,000 Sudanese refugees were forced to leave their camp in South Sudan's Unity state in August, mainly because of their unwillingness to relocate to a new refugee site, insecurity and a shortage of food.

Reportedly 14,434 refugees from Yida refugee camp in Unity returned to South Kordofan state in August. This has raised the total number of recent returnees from South Sudan to South Kordofan to more than 27,500 people, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) writes in its latest food security outlook.

The main factors driving the return of the Sudanese refugees are reported to be insecurity in South Sudan, a lack of food, and an unwillingness to relocate to a new refugee site in Upper Nile state, according to FEWS NET. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is in charge of the relocation and registration of the about 70,000 refugees to Pamir camp.

Now, the Yida returnees have arrived in areas controlled by the government and the rebel SPLM-N in western, central, and eastern parts of the Nuba Mountains. Most of the people came back to rebel-hold areas, while there are some limited returns reported in government-controlled areas.

The UN humanitarian office (OCHA) wrote in its weekly bulletin that the number of registered Sudanese refugees in Unity state, including Yida, had decreased by about 15,000 people between June and October this year. Regarding food security, most of the returnees have come back after the rainy season and are probably unable to cultivate their lands, FEWS NET predicted.

Relocation

The UN Refugee Agency opened the new Pamir camp in Unity to accommodate the Sudanese refugees in the Yida settlement, which held more than 70,000 people earlier this year. Yida has never been officially recognised as a refugee camp.

But in April, hundreds of refugees protested in front of the UNHCR office in Unity against the planned shutdown of Yida, and the pressure by the aid agencies they experienced to move to other camps. Another camp in Unity state, Ajuong Thok, already runs at full capacity, according to the UNHCR.

To the discontent of the Yida refugees, aid activities were decreased in line with the relocation programme to Pamir. The chairman of the Yida Refugee Council told Radio Dabanga in July that some of the health and protection centres at the camp have been closed as aid organisations transferred their activities to Pamir and Ajuong Thok.

UNHCR and the Government of South Sudan have assured in the past that no one will be forced to leave.

Fighting between government forces and fighters of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) continues. Last March and May, Delling and Heiban localities witnessed attacks and air raids that claimed civilian victims. This month the SPLM-N announced a unilateral ceasefire for six months in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.


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