LONDON (AlertNet) - Hunger and fighting have driven some 20,000 Sudanese refugees to the border with South Sudan with reports that tens of thousands more are on their way, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said on Friday.
The refugees, who have been arriving in the Elfoj border area, had fled Sudan's Blue Nile where fighting has been raging between rebels and the Sudanese army, preventing many villagers from farming their land.
"A number of refugees have been taken to humanitarian-run hospitals in poor health after surviving on tree leaves for some time," UNHCR said in a statement.
Citing refugee reports that up to 40,000 more people could be en route to South Sudan, the aid agency warned that the influx of refugees was putting the limited resources in the remote area of South Sudan under tremendous strain.
It also said it was worried about the safety of the refugees in Elfoj due to their proximity to the border.
"The most vulnerable refugees have been taken by tractor-pulled trailers (to refugee camps away from the border) as road conditions deteriorate in the rainy season in the border area," UNHCR said.
Its statement came a day after the U.N. Security Council expressed concern over a lack of access for aid to Blue Nile and neighbouring South Kordofan state.
As with most of Sudan's conflicts, the roots of the wars in Blue Nile and South Kordofan stretch back decades. Tens of thousands of fighters in both states sided with southern rebels during a civil war against Khartoum that started in 1983.
A 2005 peace deal ended the fighting, ultimately clearing the way for South Sudan's independence in July, but it left the two states in the north.
In June 2011, the Sudan People's Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N), made up of a former division of the southern rebel army, began fighting government forces in South Kordofan.
Other SPLA-N troops loyal to Blue Nile governor Malik Agar quickly took to the bush when fighting spread to that state in September.
Khartoum and Juba have repeatedly accused one another of backing rebels on either side of the border since then, hindering talks over unresolved issues such as how much landlocked South Sudan should pay to use oil infrastructure in Sudan.