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BUNJ - 24 Mar 2014

Maban commissioner says not hostile to refugees

Local authorities in Upper Nile State’s Maban County have denied making hostile statements toward refugees and emphasized they want the host community and refugees to live in peace.

Speaking to Radio Tamazuj yesterday, the Maban County Commissioner James Pasha stated that his last remarks on the issue of the Blue Nile refugees in the county were misinterpreted.

He said he would not try to force refugees to leave but rather that he succeeded in calming tensions in two refugee camps recently, emphasizing that his administration is abiding by the international treaty on refugees’ rights. 

“I did not say that I don’t want the refugee here, what I just wanted from them is that they should live peacefully with the local residents,” he said.

He explained, “In case they run out of food, for instance, the UN organizations are there to provide them with food, so there are no justifiable reasons for them to go outside to cause problems. Therefore I appeal to them to stay inside their camps.”

Pasha noted the refugees at Yusuf Batil and Jendrasa camps caused a lot of trouble to the locals by looting cattle and goats: “A local resident in Maban County is also like any human being – if you try to take his property by force, he or she will definitely resist that.”

“I also appreciate the good behaviours shown by the Blue Nile refugees who are living at Doro and Kaya camps. I have never heard about any problem caused by them,” he noted.

Pasha also called for restraint among the host community and the youths in particular, adding that the government is working on the issue. The official hinted that the refugees and host community will reach an amicable solution as soon as possible.

UNHCR, the UN refugees agency, has expressed ‘grave concern’ about the new tension in the region. “Local residents (in Maban County) are now demanding that some 60,000 refugees in Yusuf Batil and Gendrassa camps leave within two months,” Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, a spokesperson for the agency told journalists in Geneva.

She added that hostilities had also spread to Doro and Kaya camps, stressing that UNHCR was working with authorities and humanitarian agencies to diffuse tensions and competition for natural resources.

The fighting over firewood, grass and grazing land had forced up to 8,000 refugees to flee Yusuf Batil camp, Lejeune-Kaba said. “Houses, tents and granaries belonging to refugees and villagers alike were set on fire during the fighting,” she added.

“Although refugees have since returned to the camp, tensions persist. Maban residents living near Yusuf Batil camp have fled, citing fear of further confrontation with refugees who outnumber them,” she added.

During the first week of March, refugees across Maban's four camps received a 10-day ration of pulses and oil. This food will cover only about 24 percent of their daily energy needs. Shortages have left them without cereals and salt for several weeks.

Security problems prevented the World Food Programme from bringing enough food into the county. The UN agency has since announced plans to airdrop food or bring it in through Ethiopia, which borders the county to the east.

Photo: Maban Commissioner James Basha, 20 Feb. 2014 (Radio Tamazuj)