LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Some 89,000 people, mostly women and children, have fled fighting in South Sudan in one month, with more than 1,000 crossing into neighbouring countries every day, medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Friday.
South Sudanese refugees crammed in poorly-equipped, overcrowded camps are at risk of contracting deadly diseases such as malaria. MSF said it is already treating serious cases of malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory infections at the Dzaipi settlement in Uganda, a camp that was built to host 3,000 people and now shelters over 25,000.
“Because there are now large numbers of people living in a region that has frequent epidemics of cholera and meningitis, we will be closely monitoring the health situation in the camps,” said Ruben Pottier, the charity’s head of mission in Uganda.
Uganda is now home to nearly 50,000 South Sudanese who fled fighting in their home country, often making exhausting journeys to the border on foot, by bus or truck, facing severe dehydration and needing everything from food and water to medical care, MSF said.
In Kenya, to where around 10,000 refugees have fled, MSF said it found seven suspected cases of measles. More than 1,000 children were vaccinated against the disease, the medical charity added.
“With cases of measles reported at the camps in Juba, where most of these refugees transited through, it is of the utmost importance that we do all that we can to prevent an outbreak in Kenya,” Guilhem Molinie, MSF’s head of mission in Kenya, said in a statement.
Twenty-year-old Tok Maker is among thousands who crossed into Kenya since violence broke out in his home country in December. He fled the capital Juba with his mother and ten siblings after witnessing two students being killed at his university.
“All the students have now fled. Those who have money have gone to Nairobi, others went to Kampala, others went to Ethiopia,” Maker told MSF. “But we, who do not have anything, are trying to go to Kakuma (a refugee camp in northwestern Kenya).”
“When people cross the border there is relief and often hope,” Molinie said. “But you can see that people are used to tough realities. At the border I met a refugee who was pleading with officials to let him back into South Sudan. He wanted to find his mother, who was blind.
“I met another family who had been so scared before they left home that they had hidden under a bed for seven days.”
South Sudan's government and rebels signed a ceasefire on Thursday to end more than five weeks of violence that divided Africa's newest nation and brought it to the brink of civil war.
A total of 494,000 people have been uprooted in the fighting, according to United Nations figures. On Friday, the World Food Programme said looters had stolen more than 3,700 tonnes of food, enough to feed 220,000 people for a month.