Juba, Dec 8 (IANS) An escalating armed conflict in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State has displaced at least 20,000 people since August, some of them forced to flee for their lives up to four times as the conflict rages, the UNHCR said.
UNHCR’s Representative in South Sudan, Arafat Jamal, said on Wednesday that nearly 3,000 people have already fled to neighboring Sudan, further intensifying South Sudan’s refugee crisis, the largest in Africa.
“Desperation is rising, and more people are fleeing as conflict intensifies. Civilians are under attack in this ruthless conflict; we must ensure their protection,” he added in a statement.
According to the UNHCR, the armed conflict erupted in the village of Tonga in Upper Nile on August 15 and has since spread further in Upper Nile, and northern parts of Jonglei and Unity states, Xinhua news agency reported.
Jamal said the UNHCR, together with UN and NGO partners, has scaled up its response to provide life-saving support to the most vulnerable, including in hard-to-reach areas with shelter, relief items, protection services, cash, and other assistance .
Despite UNHCR’s support for efforts to de-escalate tensions and promote peace, the situation continues to deteriorate, he added.
Nearly 6.8 million people need urgent life-saving aid due to armed conflict, localized violence, dramatic flooding, worsening food insecurity, and economic destabilization in South Sudan, the UN agency said.
According to the UNHCR, women, children, and others at high risk make up the majority of those displaced.
“Some older people or those with disabilities have been unable to flee, forced to hide in bushes and along the White Nile River during attacks,” it said.
The UN agency also said the fleeing civilians are visibly traumatised; many have lost their homes and been separated from their families.