GENEVA, May 31 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency has voiced concerns that the number of displaced people could rise in Sudan’s disputed Abyei region following the recent outbreak of fighting.
The security situation remains precarious after fighting erupted over a week ago in Abyei, which is claimed by both the northern and southern authorities.
UNHCR staff reported that Abyei was nearly emptied of its normal population of 50,000 to 55,000 people. Over a third of the tukuls (traditional huts) had been burnt down. Many others were looted or destroyed, and were missing roofs, doors or windows. Trucks were seen carrying looted goods out of Abyei. There were large numbers of fighters on the streets, and sounds of sporadic shooting could be heard on Monday evening.
“The UN team [that visited last week] saw a stream of civilians heading south towards and past Agok,” UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva on Tuesday. “A number of villages just south of Abyei were burning. Many people feared that Agok itself might soon be attacked.”
So far, 31,256 displaced people have been registered in Warrap state and 27,961 in Agok itself. Smaller numbers have been reported in neighbouring states south of Abyei. Some families were separated in the fighting.
“Displaced people have told us that many people had gone into hiding in the bush to avoid being caught in the fighting,” said Edwards. Some displaced people are living with their relatives but the majority have no one to host them and urgently need food, shelter, clothing and other relief items.
“Currently, assessment teams are working to reach areas that have been cut off due to insecurity and heavy rains,” said the UNHCR spokesman.
The refugee agency and its partners are working to locate displaced people in the area and to identify the most vulnerable among them. UNHCR staff have provided psycho-social counselling to the traumatized, and plans to transport those who cannot walk to safer locations where they can receive aid.
Aid agencies are distributing existing relief supplies but further aid delivery is being hampered by the insecurity in the region. Before the recent unrest, Abyei was a key town on the main route for transporting aid from the north to hundreds of thousands of previously-displaced Sudanese in the south of the country.