Food security is deteriorating in Maban’s refugee camps as tensions escalate between the refugees and the host community. The refugees are struggling to survive as conflict simmers in the north, a new, bloody civil war rages in the south and violence increases within the camps.
Maban county is home to around 120,000 refugees, spread between four camps, Kaya, Gendrassa, Yosuf Batil, and Doro. Last week, the food shortage became so severe that refugees in Doro and Gendrassa protested. The UNHCR then distributed a five day ration of food in an attempt to calm the population.
The UNHCR reported that it explained the transport difficulties to the refugees. The refugees are frustrated but understand.
“The problem we face in the camp is that our children are sick. Especially with infection and other illnesses. This has come from the lack of food,” said Zinab Ali, of Doro camp. “I am a mother of four children. The eldest is eight. All of them are sick with different illnesses.”
The camps originally sheltered mainly Sudanese refugees who’ve fled war torn Blue Nile State since 2011. An indiscriminate bombing campaign forced over 30,000 across the border into South Sudan within the first few months alone. Now, the recent civil war in South Sudan has brought thousands more up from the south. The influx of additional thousands of displaced Southerners has pushed the capacity of the Maban camps to the limit.
The southern conflict is also making it extremely difficult to restock Maban’s depleted supplies.
The World Food Program and other aid organizations usually try to resupply the camps by road before the rainy season makes ground transport impossible. Last year the camps were resupplied without incident but this year open conflict and roadblocks have made this impossible.
Last week, the World Food Program air-dropped approximately 90 tonnes of food directly into Maban. But air drops are significantly more expensive than transporting food by road. The last time they were necessary in Maban was 2012, when the camp’s population was exploding.
Even with the air drop, rations have been reduced. The WFP aims to provide 2100 calories for each refugee each day – the majority of which come from cereals. However, recently, they have only been able to provide pulses – like lentils – and oil which make up less than 24 percent of their daily energy needs. “The situation in South Sudan is complex and challenging,” said David Philips, the Deputy Country Director for Samaritan’s Purse in South Sudan. “People are suffering and the needs are great. We are working nonstop to respond to the overwhelming needs across the country, but the humanitarian capacity is stretched to the max because of the great need.”
And as more displaced people arrive from the south, security around the camp is deteriorating.
8,000 residents fled Batil on March 3 following bursts of gunfire, and sought refuge along the road outside of the camp. Both the homes of refugees and the host community were set on fire in the incident. It remains unclear who was responsible for the assault.
Alshaikh Adam, a refugee in Maban, said “The big problem in the camp is coming from the security situation which is very intense.” He spoke of an unidentified armed group that had come to the camp. No one knew where they were from, or who they are. “We are running from Sudan because of the war in the Blue Nile and we are not able to relax because now faced with another problem because there are armed groups that come inside for no reason and we don’t know where they are coming from.”
He said he recently reached out to camp officials asking better security in the camps. He explained that he couldn’t go to South Sudan because of the fresh violence, and that he couldn’t go back to Sudan, where he had fled from the war in Blue Nile. “What can we do?” he asked, “We are in the middle between two wars.”