Conflict & Justice

A flood of South Sudanese refugees is overwhelming the UN camp in Bentiu

This story is a part of

Human Needs

This story is a part of

Human Needs


People displaced by the fighting wait to get clean water at a water point in a camp for internally displaced persons at the United Nations UN base in Bentiu, South Sudan.


Andreea Campeanu/Reuters

South Sudan has been gripped by civil unrest for more than six months.

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Tensions in the world's newest nation began last summer when South Sudanese President Salva Kiir fired his deputy, Riek Machar. By December, those tensions turned into ethnic violence between Kiir's Dinka people and Machar's tribe, the Nuer.

Since then, more than a million South Sudanese refugees have fled that violence.

Over the past two months, tens of thousands of refugees have taken shelter at a United Nations camp in Bentiu on the South Sudanese border with Sudan. The camp has swelled way past capacity and conditions there have taken a turn for the worst, according to a recent report by Doctors Without Borders.

Raphael Gorgeu, the country director for Doctor's Without Borders in South Sudan, has been monitoring conditions in the camp and said that daily influx of new refugees has put pressure on humanitarian efforts to provide proper assistance.

“Today, there are only six liters of water per person, per day and normally there are at least a minimum of 15 liters of water per person, per day,” explained Gorgeu, “And there is basically one latrine for 170 people when the minimum in such conditions is one latrine per 20 people.”

Insufficient water and sanitary facilities in the camp has led to premature deaths among many refugees, the majority of whom are children, according to Gorgeau.

Two months ago, the UN camp in Bentiu sheltered just 2000 people — but over the past few weeks those numbers have swelled to as many as 45,000 people. Many South Sudanese, according to Gorgeu, have told aid workers that they have been driven out of their surrounding villages not only for security reasons, but in search of food.

“They walk for hours just to get to this camp,” Gorgeu said. “A lot of people have been coming because where they live they don’t have food anymore.”

Refugees are coming from both sides of the ethnic divide.

“In the camp population there is a mixed population of Neur and Dinka, most of the population are civilians and a lot of women and children,” Gorgeu said. “So far we haven’t seen any major tension or incidents between the two communities.”