JUBA--The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has strongly denounced what it described as the spreading violence in South Sudan’s Greater Equatoria region in past weeks, including recent attacks at Lasu settlement.
The Equatoria region witnessed recently fierce fighting in different locations between the south Sudanese government army and SPLM-IO fighters loyal to Riek Machar, former First Vice President.
A young Congolese refugee, UNHCR said, was killed during the attack and his body was found near the settlement, about 40 kilometers south of Yei county.
In recent days, armed groups have repeatedly entered the settlement and fired shots, assaulted refugees, looted and destroyed humanitarian assets, goods and property, the agency said in a statement.
It added, Fearing for their lives, some 8,000 refugees fled in panic and dispersed in different directions.
According to UNHCR, nearly 6,500 people have reportedly found refuge in a farmland at Kukuyi, some 6 kilometers north of Lasu, while another 1,400 refugees have scattered along the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Refugee representatives reportedly told UNHCR that 100 people have crossed into neighbouring DRC and settled near the border at Aba, joining another 2,000 Congolese nationals who escaped from Lasu in South Sudan in early September.
Before fresh violence broke out in the country on July 8, UNHCR said, Lasu settlement used to host over 10,000 refugees, mostly from DRC with smaller numbers from Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR).
They escaped violence at home several years ago and hoped that they had found a place of safety in this border town in South Sudan - then security deteriorated rapidly, said the UN refugee agency.
Armed groups, UNHCR said, penetrated the settlement on Monday and ransacked the primary health care centre, stealing drugs, medical supplies and furniture. They also seized radio communication equipment and solar panels used to pump water to private and public facilities in the settlement, leaving the population without drinking water.
The agency also reported various cases of rape and torture of refugees during the raid.
“UNHCR decries these horrific acts that have caused death, fear and suffering of innocent people. We urge all armed parties to respect the civilian and humanitarian character of asylum and refugee settlements and call upon the Government of South Sudan to protect the lives of civilian populations, including refugees,” said Ahmed Warsame, UNHCR’s Representative in South Sudan.
Aid agencies say renewed violence in South Sudan has forced more than 195,000 people to flee the country since 8 July, bringing the number of South Sudanese refugees in neighboring countries to over 1 million. In South Sudan, over 1.6 million people are internally displaced and another 261,000 are refugees from Sudan, DRC, Ethiopia and CAR, said UNHCR.