Photography: Liz Pender/The IRC
With up to 1,000 refugees arriving every day in South Sudan’s remote Yida refugee camp, the International Rescue Committee is warning of a rapidly deteriorating situation as food and water is running out. The camp is already housing nearly 60,000 men, women and children fleeing the Republic of Sudan.
Fighting has been raging for almost a year between the Sudanese military and rebels in South Kordofan, a province in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan. Refugees tell stories of artillery shelling and aerial bombardments of their villages, and of their desperate search for food and water.
“The aid community is struggling to catch up with the soaring numbers,” says Ibrahim Kallo, who coordinates the IRC’s aid effort in Yida.
“They arrive here exhausted and hungry after trekking through rugged and hostile terrain for up to five days,” Kallo explains. “Children are visibly malnourished and some of the weaker refugees are carried in hammocks, wheelbarrows or on the backs of relatives.”
Every day, the IRC is assisting up to 200 women in its facilities, up from 150 last month. In May alone, IRC staff helped deliver 36 babies in Yida.
“Our centres are constantly filled with women seeking medical care or help after having been raped or sexually abused en route to the camp,” says Kallo. “Many are also subjected to sexual violence within the camp.”
There is also an urgent need for sanitation and hygiene services. “There aren’t enough latrines in the camp and most refugees are forced to defecate in the open fields, posing a serious health risk,” says Kallo.
Heavy rains have exacerbated the situation even further, destroying makeshift shelters and turning important access roads into mud. Last week, an IRC four-wheel drive vehicle rushing a pregnant refugee woman with delivery complications to a hospital in Bentiu some 200km away, got stuck in deep mud.
“Nearby U.N. soldiers managed to pull the car out and the woman reached the hospital in time,” Kallo says. “It was very lucky.”