South Sudanese refugees could surpass 1M this year

Jason Patinkin
Associated Press

Juba, South Sudan — The number of South Sudanese refugees in East Africa could pass 1 million this year, the United Nations refugee agency said Friday, calling on armed groups to allow safe passage for people fleeing the latest fighting.

There is concern about fresh outflows of refugees after military clashes in recent days in the capital, Juba, said Ann Encontre, a U.N. refugee coordinator in South Sudan. She appealed for $701 million in relief aid.

“They are supposed to be the generation of tomorrow, the generation that will lead and rebuild their country, but right now, they are suffering enormously,” she said.

Even before the violence of the past week, hundreds of thousands of refugees had been sheltering in Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia and elsewhere since civil war began in December 2013.

But there are new reports that South Sudan authorities are blocking some citizens, including those with U.S. or Canadian dual nationality, from leaving the country.

“We condemn all actions by the government to prevent civilians from boarding flights out of Juba or otherwise departing South Sudan,” State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told reporters in Washington.

Opposing army factions clashed in Juba in the past week, with forces backing President Salva Kiir bombing the home of former rebel leader Riek Machar, now the country’s first vice president.

Hundreds have been killed. Red Cross workers on Friday loaded pallets of bodies onto a truck at Juba Teaching Hospital for burial at a military site.

The fighting has threatened a peace deal reached in August to end the civil war between supporters of Kiir and Machar that left tens of thousands dead.

Both Kiir and Machar on Monday called for a cease-fire, which has appeared to hold.