Thousands of civilians who fled conflict in the Sudanese state of South Kordofan across the border into the new country of South Sudan continue to face insecurity and a reduced humanitarian presence following a bombing raid, according to the refugees and aid workers.
Some 23,000 ethnic Nuba are staying at a site in Yida, just a few kilometers from the border, which came under aerial bombardment on 10 November. The Sudanese armed forces were widely blamed, but denied responsibility.
There were no confirmed casualties in the attack, which led to the evacuation of 20 aid workers.
As of 24 November, there were 10 international and 41 national relief staff in Yida as well as trained refugees, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Between 60 and 200 refugees arrive in Yida every day, OCHA said, adding that “food and water were the most urgent needs” identified during an assessment on 13 November.
Food sufficient to last a week as well as medical supplies were flown in on 15 November and further supplies are being organized and drilling equipment has been delivered to improve the water supply.
The bombing raid took place just as a UN helicopter was making its first food delivery.
“We have seen many cases of malnourished people, especially malnourished children, and anaemia also in many cases,” Chaluma Hassan Lalo, a nurse working with aid agency Care International, told IRIN in mid-November.
At that time, about 400 patients a day were visiting the site’s clinic.
“We are told that maybe they will bring food this month and we are now waiting eagerly, but it is certain that there was not enough food completely for this month,” he said, as the heavy hum of another UN flight sounded the arrival of food aid.
The chairman of the refugee camp, Hussein Al-Gumbullah, told IRIN that “since 1 November we have had only three-days’ rations in stock” and the storehouse had been empty for the first half of November.
Al-Gumbullah said food shortages had prompted many families to turn back home.
The discovery of landmines on nearby roads has raised concerns about the safety of those who have left the camp – about 100 families and an unknown number of unaccompanied children.
UNICEF flew in a mobile school last week and aid agency Samaritan’s Purse said teachers were ready and waiting. The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, said it could not provide schools in a place so near to a conflict zone as it would put children at risk.
The deputy chairman of Yida refugee camp, Mustafa Jamus, told IRIN that people had started digging foxholes to escape from any further bombs.
According to OCHA, “Efforts have continued to encourage the population at Yida to relocate to safer sites [such as Nyeel] being prepared in various locations of Pariang County, to avoid the risk of further bombing or cross-border skirmishes.”
Jamus said the people in Yida, whose homelands are mountainous, were not enthusiastic about moving to unfamiliar lowlands.
The discovery of antitank mines on the road to Nyeel and the presence of various armed groups in the area were clear indications of the risks involved in relocating, he said.
“We don’t want to subject our people to other dangers… if we are forced to go there, we prefer to go back to Nuba Mountains,” he said; the priority was to keep his people together.
Mireille Gerard, head of UNHCR’s operations in South Sudan, said the Yida site was “not going to be a long-term location” because of the security risks.
She said the strategy was “to create a pull factor” to Nyeel by offering better services such as schools, agricultural support and vocational training that would “encourage people to move to safety”, but in Yida, “humanitarian assistance will not be curtailed as long as people are in the process of relocating”.
Gerard said Nyeel was ready for the first refugees, and that UNHCR was looking at another two sites while mine clearance had begun.