Amid reports that South Sudan authorities issued a directive to restrict nationals from fleeing the country, the U.N says more refugees have fled into Uganda in the past three weeks than ever before.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said more than 37,000 people have crossed the border since fighting between South Sudan’s rival factions erupted July 8 in the capital, Juba.
UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said the refugees who are mainly women and children have reported cases of attacks on them, looting and their homes being burnt down by soldiers.
“The new arrivals are reporting ongoing fighting, looting by armed militias, burning down of homes, murders of civilians,” said Edwards
Refugees East Africa Daily correspondent spoke to at the arrival Center near the boarder town of Nimule said they were attacked on their way by soldiers in government uniform who accuse them of leaving the war to them.
Also Edwards said “Some of the women and children told us they were separated from their husbands and fathers by armed groups, who were reportedly trying to recruit them into their ranks and preventing them from crossing the border to leave the country.”
At the peak of the crisis, there were reports that people who applied to get out of the country are not permitted by immigration authorities.
The director of Juba international airport, Kur Kuol said he had received directives from the authorities that no government official should be allowed out of the country without permission. The government has not lifted the ban since.
A student who was studying in neighboring Uganda told Sudan Tribune that the directive had hampered him from traveling to write his exams. Officials had confiscated his passport.
He was asked to see security officials for clearance to his destination, only to be told on arrival that they were not permitting people to travel out of the country at the time of war.
“If you go out, who will fight, who will fight this war, just go home”, narrated the student, whose passport was still with state operatives.
But Kuol said no official letter from government denied ordinary citizens from traveling out of the country, except for its officials.
“There is no official letter preventing South Sudanese from traveling to various destinations but what I know is that any official from the government who wants to travel has to get permission from his place of work”, Kuol told reporters, but did not elaborate further.
The violence that killed at least 300 people has subsided, but tensions are still running high in the capital and other parts of South Sudan.
The U.N. refugee agency says people have little confidence that the situation soon will improve, as evidenced by the upsurge in people fleeing the country.
The political situation took a new turn in recent days, as President Salva Kir replaced former rebel leader Riek Machar as vice president with Taban Deng Gai, who helped negotiate last year’s peace deal between the government and opposition.