A fact finding mission of the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, concludes that tribesmen riding on horses raided a South Sudanese refugee settlement in El Meiram in West Kordofan two weeks ago.
The assaults started on May 5, when the attackers caused panic and destruction in the refugee settlement. 18 refugees were injured and over 200 of the nearly 280 houses were burned to the ground. The refugees had all their belongings destroyed or robbed, including important identity documents.
The South Sudanese refugees shared their ordeal with the UNHCR fact finding mission that visited the region. “Everything I built and gathered in years was gone in a moment,” a former businessman and father of nine told the fact finding mission. “I am happy that nobody was killed.”
The refugees fled to a military compound where they received protection, food and water. After two days some returned to the torched remains of their settlement, wary about any new violence.
Over 80 families, around 400 individuals, decided to leave the area and fled north to El Teboun, Ghubeish, Adila, and El Majrour where most of them used to work in the harvest season. Initial reports show that they do not intend to return to El Meiram after the harvest because of the threats and violence.
The attackers claim the assaults were intended as a revenge linked to intercommunal clashes in the disputed Abyei region where armed attacks flared between various communities in recent weeks.
Since the secession of South Sudan from Sudan in 2011, both countries claim the border area of Abyei. The region is inhabited primarily by members of the South Sudanese Dinka Ngok clan. It is also the seasonal home of the Sudanese Arab Misseriya herders tribe.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this brutal attack on innocent men, women and children,” UNHCR Representative a.i. Elizabeth Tan said in a statement.
Immediately after the attacks, UNHCR supported the families in the damaged settlement with plastic sheeting, kitchen sets and blankets. It is now monitoring the situation.
“It will be vital to restore safety and security quickly and to bring perpetrators to justice”, Tan said. “UNHCR is ready to work with the Sudanese government and the humanitarian community to address the urgent needs of these people who felt compelled to move.” Sudanese authorities proposed a plot of land where an alternative settlement could be established.
UNHCR Representative Tan praised the solidarity of the Sudanese neighbours in El Meiram. “They rejected the violence, protected the refugee community and prevented attacks where they could. They also opened their homes to those who had lost everything.” The host community offered 100,000 Sudanese Pound (more than $1,800, according to the official exchange rate) in an act of solidarity with the refugees to help rebuild their houses.
Sudan hosts some 821,000 South Sudanese refugees, 61,000 of them are in West Kordofan.
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