Two children sit among the burned ruins of their school in South Sudan | Photo: ANSA/UNICEF
Two children sit among the burned ruins of their school in South Sudan | Photo: ANSA/UNICEF

The UN Refugee Agency says there has been an increase in the number of people fleeing South Sudan to the Democratic Republic of Congo in recent days, due to violence against civilians.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said it is seeing a surge in arrivals from South Sudan in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In a statement, it said in the past few days, thousands of people have been crossing the border to escape fighting and violence against civilians. It's estimated that 5,000 people have arrived in several border villages near the town of Ingbokolo, in northeast DRC's Ituri province, according to local village chiefs. There are reports that an additional 8,000 people are displaced inside South Sudan, on the outskirts of the town of Yei. 

Humanitarian access to affected areas blocked 

The UNHCR said people are fleeing clashes that started on January 19 between the army and one of the rebel groups, the National Salvation Front (NAS), in South Sudan's Central Equatoria State on the border between DRC and Uganda. It said the clashes are "blocking humanitarian access to the affected areas".It said those fleeing the violence - the majority of whom are women, children and the elderly - arrived by foot in DRC over the weekend. Among them are people suffering malaria or other illnesses. 

Appeal to ensure civilians' safety 

UNHCR staff in DRC's Ituri province said people are seeking shelter in churches, schools and abandoned houses, or sleeping in the open. The areas in which migrants have arrived are difficult to reach, with roads and bridges badly damaged and in a state of disrepair. The Congolese authorities are encouraging people to move away from the volatile border area and move further inland, where they can get better help. 

The UNHCR said the conflict in South Sudan has created over 2.2 million refugees since 2013 and repeated its call for all parties in the conflict to take all possible action to ensure the safety of civilians and their freedom of movement, and to guarantee safe routes for civilians to leave conflict areas.

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