At Sudanese border, long wait to leave southern war behind
UNHCR says has seen almost 80,000 people escape battles between rebel and government forces in South Sudan
Some walked, others were luckier and hitched a ride, but all ended up waiting in the sun at the Sudanese border checkpoint to cross and leave South Sudan’s war behind.
Hundreds of crying children and exhausted adults have converged on the border point at Joda, where Sudan’s White Nile state meets the South’s Upper Nile, which saw heavy fighting this week.
They are among an estimated 10,000 who have fled north to Sudan as part of an exodus which the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR says has seen almost 80,000 people escape battles between rebel and government forces in South Sudan over the past month.
“I fled from my home before sunset, and spent the night in a forest,” a South Sudanese woman told AFP.
Like others in Joda, the woman who asked not to be named, said she had come from Malakal, Upper Nile’s capital about 300 kilometers (190 miles) southwest of the border.
“There was heavy fighting in Malakal,” said the 25-year-old woman.
On Monday, rebels staged an assault to seize back the town, where tank battles were reported in the streets. Both the government and rebels have claimed to control the community.
The woman said she caught a ride with a truck and reached Joda on Wednesday.
Others have been waiting at the border gate for longer, after arriving with not much more than some spare clothes carried in bags or wrapped in blankets.
Some pushed wheelbarrows loaded with mats and other belongings.
“We have been waiting here four days,” said Samuel John, also a former Malakal resident.
He said they have neither received any aid nor been allowed to cross into Sudan.
“We are still at the border gate because the Sudanese authorities asked us for our identity documents. But we don’t have any because we are fleeing the war,” John said.
What the refugees want, he added, is transport “to anywhere in Sudan.”
UNHCR described as “nomads” the thousands who have fled north from South Sudan’s violence, primarily to Sudan’s Kordofan region, but says it has not had access to verify exact numbers.
The official SUNA news agency on Thursday said up to 3,000 southern refugees have reached White Nile and Kordofan.
Vice-President Bakri Hassan Saleh has ordered that they be given aid, SUNA said.
“We came because we heard that President Bashir ordered authorities to open the border for us,” but the gate remains shut, said another escapee from Malakal, David Jiha.
Still, they are more fortunate than some.
At least 200 South Sudanese drowned in a ferry accident on the White Nile river while fleeing Malakal’s violence, an army spokesman said on Tuesday.
The same day, the United Nations said one person was killed and dozens wounded by gunfire which fell on its Malakal compound where 20,000 people had sought safety.
“We ask the U.N. and international agencies to help these women and children,” Jiha said at the border post in a flat landscape dotted with low trees.
Some of the displaced southerners have attached blankets to the branches, forming rough shelters where they hide from the burning sun.