100,000 Civilians Trapped in Yei, South Sudan

1991 Views Juba, South Sudan

In short
Civilians seeking safety from raids flee to Yei, joining tens of thousands there with no means to leave as military operations continue.

Ongoing military operations in a previously peaceful part of South Sudan have trapped an estimated 100,000 people in Yei, a town that is facing a humanitarian crisis, raising concerns for civilians' safety.

More than 30,000 people fled into Yei, about 150 kilometers south-west of Juba, following deadly attacks and looting in nearby villages during September. They joined thousands of others who fled fighting in July.

The displaced communities are now living alongside Yei's population of 60,000. These civilians have no means to leave and face increasing acts of violence against them, church leaders in the town told a high-level mission led by the UN Refugee Agency- UNHCR.

A statement released by UNHCR shows that several civilians have been hacked to death, including women, children, and babies. Uniformed men were said to have detained many young men accused of supporting forces opposed to the government. Many others were assaulted and their property looted or burnt.

UNHCR says it is increasingly concerned over the fate of the trapped people.

"They are slaughtering innocent people like animals," said one young woman too frightened of reprisals to give her name. "This is brutal. I don't understand why we have suddenly become a target. I thought wars were fought between armies. We are citizens of this country. I feel hopeless. I can't do much but pray for peace."

Until recently, Yei had largely escaped the effects of the primary conflict in South Sudan. But political tensions had begun emerging late in 2015, and security deteriorated rapidly after a new conflict broke out in Juba, South Sudan's capital, in July. 

"We can't leave this place, not even to go to our farms," one 50-year-old farmer told UNHCR. "There are military personnel and checkpoints all around the town. Our harvest is rotting. We need to start planting now; otherwise we won't have any food next year."

Displaced people need food, household items and medicines, and children need to be able to go to school, UNHCR said in a statement. Food prices are skyrocketing, local hospitals are functioning at reduced capacity, and there are indications of increasing sexual and gender-based violence, and unaccompanied and separated children.

"UNHCR condemns these acts that have caused death, fear and suffering of innocent people," said Ahmed Warsame, UNHCR's Representative in South Sudan. "We urge the Government of South Sudan to protect the lives of civilian populations and ensure their freedom of movement and access to safety.