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South Sudan Refugee Crisis

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Over 170,000 refugees have fled their homes in Sudan since mid-2011, to seek safety in neighbouring South Sudan. © Louise Roland-Gosselin

Updated January 2013

In mid-2011 a conflict started between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Sudan People's Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N) armed group in Sudan’s Blue Nile and South Kordofan States. In November 2011, the fighting escalated and tens of thousands of people fled to save their lives.

To date nearly 40,000 refugees have crossed into Ethiopia and around 170,000 into South Sudan. For many, their journey to South Sudan took up to six weeks, going from cave to cave, eating only leaves and roots, struggling to find water to drink; and many refugees lost family members who collapsed dead from exhaustion, malnutrition or illness while making the journey to the border. Now in South Sudan they are gathered in camps where they are entirely dependent on humanitarian aid for the basic essentials they need to stay alive - food, water, shelter and healthcare.

The current situation
In total there are approximately 170,000 Sudanese refugees living in five refugee camps in South Sudan. Médecins Sans Frontières is present in all five of the camps, providing essential medical and water services for the refugees, tailored to the specific needs in each camp.

Yida Camp, in Unity State, South Sudan
Around 60,000 refugees have fled to Yida camp from South Kordofan State. Médecins Sans Frontières has been present in this camp since December 2011 and reached the peak of emergency response during the worst of the rainy season, from May to July 2012, when the camp population quadrupled, with up to 1,000 new arrivals per day. Mortality was more than double the emergency threshold and up to five children were dying every day from the vicious circle of malnutrition complicated by such pathologies as diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia. To complicate matters further, the floodwater cut the camp off entirely from any road access and the only way in and out was by plane.

Now the rainy season floods have receded, the peak of the horrific mortality crisis is over. But the refugees are still in need of humanitarian aid for all the basics to survive. While other organisations are responsible for other aspects of the humanitarian response, Médecins Sans Frontières is taking the lead in providing healthcare:

Number of field hospitals: 1
Number of outpatient health-posts: 1
Number of international staff: 16
Number of locally recruited staff: 174
Number of consultations per week: around 2100
Main medical issues: respiratory infections, diarrhoea, malaria and continuing outbreak of hepatitis E

Batil, Doro, Gendrassa and Jamam Camps, in Upper Nile State, South Sudan
Around 110,000 refugees have fled from Blue Nile State to the inhospitable wastes of Maban County, where they are gathered in four refugee camps. Médecins Sans Frontières has been present in Maban County since November 2011, when the first refugees started arriving. As in Yida camp, the situation became catastrophic between June and August, when the combination of the rainy season floods, an influx of 35,000 new refugees in a condition of total exhaustion, and a very high burden of disease and malnutrition took its toll. Mortality rates soared to more than double the emergency threshold.

Now the flood waters have receded, the situation has somewhat stabilised, but without continued significant humanitarian aid, the refugees would have no food, water or healthcare. The dryer conditions also mean more refugees are starting to cross the border again, which was not possible in the rainy season. Médecins Sans Frontières is present in all the camps providing medical care and is still pumping, treating and distributing hundreds of thousands of litres of clean drinking water every day in Doro camp.

Number of field hospitals: 3
Number of outpatient health-posts: 7
Number of international staff: 90
Number of locally recruited staff: 700
Number of consultations per week: around 5,500
Main medical issues: diarrhoea, respiratory infections, malaria and a continuing outbreak of hepatitis E
Water treated and distributed per week: around 2.5 million litres


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Project Manager: Michael Seawright - the humanitarian project manager


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SBS Radio: Thousands facing famine in South Sudan


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ABC Radio National Breakfast: Médecins Sans Frontières in South Sudan


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