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Congolese refugees flee fresh fighting in South Sudan

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January 28, 2016 (EZO) – Clashes that erupted between the so-called Arrow Boys and South Sudanese government soldiers late last year forced several Congolese refugees to flee the nation, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said.

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Sudanese refugees rest next to their UNHCR tent inside South Sudan. (photo UNHCR)

Pierre, a Congolese national, is among the thousands who fled South Sudan.

"I thought it was the end of the world," Pierre told UNHCR officials.

"I was in my fields when the fighting began. I dropped everything and rushed home to get my wife and children, but on the way I was taken by armed youth”, he added.

Pierre was reportedly held hostage and forced to carry the militia’s supplies, all the while unaware of the fate of his wife or their two-month-old daughter and four-year-old son, but released unharmed after several days.

"I immediately headed back home to look for my family, fearing the worst,” he said, "When I reached Ezo, I found my hut completely ransacked and my boy inside alone in tears, but my wife and younger daughter were gone."

The 57-year-old farmer and his family, UNHCR reported, are among thousands of refugees who fled war at home and found safety in this South Sudanese border town and who now have to move again after new fighting broke out there, also forcing aid groups to leave temporarily.

Last week, a humanitarian convoy protected by armed peacekeepers reportedly carried a vanguard of 30 refugees originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) who were living in Ezo to a new settlement at Makpandu, a town 220 kilometres to the east.

UNHCR said it expects to mount more operations as needed for those 3,200 Congolese refugees who lived in and around Ezo and are willing to relocate to Makpandu. The majority are believed to have fled back across the border into the DRC, or to the neighbouring Central African Republic.

The violence around Ezo continued into January, and the situation is still so volatile that humanitarian agencies, including UNHCR, are now pulling out.

This conflict is separate from fighting that broke out in December 2013 between South Sudanese soldiers and opposition forces led by the former vice-president, Riek Machar, which has displaced 2.3 million people from their homes.

"We are leaving Ezo with a heavy heart, but security is critical for our staff to operate and deliver assistance," said Ahmed Warsame, the UNHCR Representative for South Sudan.

"Our promise to support the host community remains, and so does our commitment to resume operations in Ezo if the security significantly improves in the future," he added.

More than 1.6 million South Sudanese are already internally displaced, and the country hosts 263,000 refugees fleeing conflict or instability in neighbouring nations, UNHCR said.

(ST)

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