Overwhelming refugee influx causing crisis in South Sudan
MSF warns of dire medical needs in overcrowded and under-prepared refugee camps
London/Juba, 13 June 2012 – Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warns of dire medical consequences as tens of thousands of new refugees crossing from Sudan into South Sudan find refugee camps full and unable to provide life-sustaining essentials. The situation in Upper Nile and Unity States is rapidly developing into a full-blown crisis as water supplies start to run out and relief is wholly insufficient. Medical care is not enough when shelter, food and water are lacking for people arriving in an already weakened state.
In Upper Nile State around 35,000 refugees crossed the border over a three-week period at the end of May and beginning of June. They arrived to find refugee camps that were already overcrowded and struggling to provide enough water for the 70,000 refugees in the area. The new arrivals initially gathered at a temporary site but water ran out and, on Monday night, the 15,000 refugees remaining at this location walked en masse 25km to the nearest location with available water.
“We went early on Tuesday morning to provide medical assistance and rehydration points along the route,” says Dr. Erna Rijnierse of MSF. “It was a truly shocking sight as we witnessed some of the weakest dying as they walked – too dehydrated for even the most urgent medical care to save them.” The situation for these refugees could not be more urgent and they need to be provided a place with water, shelter and food as soon as possible.
In Unity State, the refugee camp at Yida expanded dramatically over the past two months to around 50,000, with up to a thousand new refugees arriving daily. “At this point what concerns us most in Yida is that half of our consultations are for water borne illnesses that are easily preventable with proper hygiene, sanitation and availability of potable water,” says André Heller Perrache, MSF head of mission in South Sudan. “We see many patients, mainly children for whom diarrhoea can be life-threatening, continue to come back to the hospital to be treated several times. We are also seeing increasing malnutrition.”
Many of the new arrivals from Sudan have walked for many days or even weeks and are in worse health than refugees who have crossed in the past few months. Despite the efforts of the organisations present, the conditions and facilities they find on arrival are completely insufficient to cope with the recent influx or with the needs of the existing population of the camps.
The start of the rainy season adds to the urgency. “As the rainy season intensifies, the situation for the refugees becomes increasingly precarious,” says Heller Perrache. “Some crucial access roads are already becoming unusable and MSF urgently calls upon aid organisations involved in providing the basic minimum services to catch up with the ever increasing camp populations.”
MSF is working on a large scale in the refugee camps, with more than 50 international staff and just over 300 local staff present. MSF is doing more than 6,500 consultations per week, including urgent medical care for the most critically ill of the new arrivals. We are also working towards preventing outbreaks of disease by conducting measles vaccination campaigns for children. At various temporary points in Upper Nile State, MSF is treating and distributing water but the available water will run out soon. “That’s why it is so important more organisations get involved in trying to move the refugees to more suitable locations and provide appropriate conditions in the existing camps without delay”, adds Rijnierse.