Tens of thousands of South Sudanese civilians sheltering in UN peacekeeper bases fearing revenge attacks after weeks of conflict are to be moved to new camps, UN officials said on Monday.
More than three months since fighting broke out, some 77,000 civilians are still inside eight UN bases across the troubled nation, in overcrowded conditions that are worsening with the early arrival of torrential rains.
UN peacekeepers opened their gates to protect civilians after brutal fighting broke out in December with reports of massacres and targeted ethnic killings.
But the temporary shelter has stretched into months, and with fighting ongoing and a ceasefire in tatters, civilians are too fearful to leave.
Aid officials had hoped the thousands would be able to return to their homes, but are now being forced to prepare more permanent sites for people.
Toby Lanzer, the UN humanitarian chief in South Sudan, said there was “desperate overcrowding” for the 25,000 civilians crammed into the UN’s base in war-ravaged Malakal, the state capital of oil-producing Upper Nile.
Aid agencies and the UN are preparing a new “protection of civilians” site in Malakal, which will also free up space inside the UN camps for normal operations.
Those in the camps say they fear the creation of enclaves but are too fearful to return home.
“I don’t want to live a life stuck in a camp, but my neighbourhood in Juba is in ruins, and I would not be safe there,” said John Nyoun, a student in the UN base in the capital.