Up to 26,000 people are believed to have been displaced by fighting that broke out between ethnic Dinka and Shilluk at a site for internally displaced people in Malakal, South Sudan, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, said.
The violence erupted in the evening of Wednesday (February 17). A day later, Sudan’s People Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers reportedly entered the protection of civilians’ site, which was hosting 48,000 internally displaced people, or IDPs.
Humanitarian partners on the ground reported shooting, looting of properties and burning of houses. UNHCR staff said civilians fled carrying whatever they could and that vulnerable people were left unattended. Many families were separated in the rush to flee.
Preliminary information indicates 18 people were killed and more than 90 wounded. A number of civilians remain in very critical conditions. Two clinics, run by the International Organization for Migration and International Medical Corps (IMC), were looted.
Some 4,000 displaced Dinka fled to Malakal town, while tens of thousands of Nuer and Shilluk IDPs sought refuge at the UN Mission in South Sudan, or UNMISS, base in Malakal.
“We have received reports that some 26,000 internally displaced people have fled into the UNMISS base, but we are unable to confirm the number given the fluidity of the situation,” UNHCR spokesperson Andreas Needham told reporters at a briefing in Geneva.
According to government sources, IDPs who fled to Malakal town have found safety in churches and schools. Médecins Sans Frontières confirmed that 18 people have been killed, including two of their staff.
“Fire has heavily damaged the civilian protection site. Food, shelter and water are the priority needs now and children and the elderly are among the most affected. Fighting has subsided since last night, but sporadic gunshots were heard this morning,” Needham said.
UNHCR met with partners on Friday to organize an assessment of displaced people sheltering in the UNMISS base and see how to respond to their needs.
UN peacekeepers appear to have taken control of the civilian protection site and the SPLA soldiers are reported to have left the camp. UNHCR has 16 staff on the ground, including four international staff, and all are accounted for.
Humanitarian partners installed water points for the civilians displaced inside the UNMISS base. Health partners have mobilized to take care of the wounded, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, World Health Organization, IMC, MSF, and IOM.
A number of IDPs in critical conditions were medically evacuated to Kodok and Juba. ICRC sent a team to Kodok to offer medical evacuation and surgical support.
Demonstrations were held yesterday at POC sites in the South Sudan capital, Juba, with hundreds of IDPs protesting in solidarity with their communities in Malakal. UNHCR is one of the many partners of the humanitarian response to the developing situation.