Al-Eligat (Sudan) (AFP)
Tired and hungry, James is among hundreds of South Sudanese refugees — mostly women and children — gathered at a “Refugee Waiting Centre” in Al-Eligat area along the border in Sudan’s White Nile state.
The centre hosts refugees fleeing famine and fighting in South Sudan and later transports them to permanent camps in several areas of Sudan.
“For two days I didn’t stop running until I reached the border,” said James, who comes from South Sudan’s Unity State where officials last week declared a state of famine.
The 35-year-old crossed into Sudan with her children two days ago, she told AFP on Monday at the centre some nine kilometres (six miles) from the Sudan-South Sudan border.
“On my way I saw many old women starving to death and young men shot dead in fighting,” said James, wearing traditional South Sudanese dress.
Several of her relatives had also died “because of hunger or in fighting,” she said.
South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation formed after splitting from the north in 2011, has declared famine in parts of Unity State, saying 100,000 people face starvation and another million are on the brink of famine.
– ‘Man-made’ famine –
The UN refugee agency UNHCR said tens of thousands of South Sudanese are expected to pour into Sudan in the coming months.
Sudan is already hosting nearly 330,000 South Sudanese arrivals since civil war erupted in their country in December 2013.
The conflict broke out after President Salva Kiir accused his rival and former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup.
Fierce fighting between Kiir supporters from the Dinka tribe and Machar supporters from the Neur tribe have left tens of thousands of people dead. More than three million have been displaced.
Aid groups have slammed the “man-made” famine caused by the conflict which has forced people to flee, disrupted agriculture, sent prices soaring and cut off aid agencies from some of the worst-hit areas.
About 32,000 South Sudanese have already crossed into Sudan since January this year, the UNHCR said.
It said it was initially expecting up to 60,000 South Sudanese to arrive in Sudan in throughout 2017, but “the level of new arrivals has thus far surpassed initial expectations”.
Peter Kwang, a local leader from the Neur tribe, was despondent on Monday as he collected food parcels at Al-Eligat.
“Our people are starving, they have no food. Many have fled into the forests where there’s nothing to eat, and no medicine or shelter,” he said.
– Hiding in forests –
“Many villages have been burnt down completely by government forces.”
Await Kong, 75, told AFP her story as she sat on a sack of sorghum, a staple food in Sudan.
“I arrived here three days ago after walking for 10 days, often hiding in forests to escape the fighting,” she said.
“I came with my daughter, but we have no information about other relatives who live in Upper Nile” state in South Sudan.
The Al-Eligat centre is a transit camp run by Sudanese authorities and the Sudanese Red Crescent.
However, aid officials said it was equipped only to receive fleeing refugees and offer relief such as basic foodstuffs provided by the UNHCR and its partner agencies.
Set up on farmland along a highway that connects the border with Kosti, the provincial capital of White Nile state, the centre has only makeshift toilets and washing facilities.
Foreign aid workers were seen handing out relief supplies to refugees at the centre on Monday.
After being given aid and being processed, the refugees are then taken to permanent camps in other states in Sudan, including White Nile.
Many stay at the Al-Eligat centre for a few days until they can be housed elsewhere.
“After my father was killed in fighting, my mother and I fled and came here,” said 13-year-old Stephen, dressed in a T-shirt and trousers.
“We walked for nearly 65 kilometres (40 miles) before reaching the border, and all we had to eat was leaves from the trees.”