NAIROBI (AlertNet) Â? Clashes over cattle, scarce water and land, as well as uncertainty over the looming referendum on south SudanÂ?s independence, are forcing thousands of Sudanese to flee to Kenya, U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said.
The number of Sudanese refugees in Kenya had been falling steadily until this year. Overall, half a million Sudanese went home from refugee camps in neighbouring countries since a 2005 peace deal ended two decades of civil war in Sudan.
However, last month there were almost 5,000 more Sudanese refugees and asylum-seekers in Kenya than a year ago, according to UNHCR data.
The majority of those refugees say inter-ethnic fighting over resources has driven them from their homes, UNHRC regional spokesman Yusuf Hassan said. But about 10 percent are repeat refugees who had returned to Sudan after the peace accord was signed.
Â?They had gone back hoping the war was over but now with the dispute between north and south, they just feared general violence,Â? Hassan said.
Oil-producing south Sudan is due to hold the vote on its secession from the north on Jan. 9. But the head of the referendum commission said last month that it would be a Â?miracleÂ? if the referendum happened on time. There are fears that a disruption of the poll could lead to a new conflict between the north and south.
But even if the vote goes ahead on time and is peaceful, UNHCR expects that thousands of Sudanese will abandon their homes in search of stability elsewhere in Sudan or abroad.
UNHCR offices in Sudan and in neighbouring countries are preparing for such likely mass population movement by stocking up on emergency supplies, briefing key staff and seeking out potential sources of funding.
If south Sudan votes for independence as expected, there will be a six-month transition period until July 9, 2011 to prepare for the official creation of two new countries.
The uncertainty is compounded by slow progress on resolving key north-south disputes such as the status of the oil-producing Abyei region, Sudanese citizenship and oil sharing. A minister said last month southerners could lose their citizenship rights if the south secedes, sparking fear and confusion among southerners living in the north.
Â?The issue of people caught up on the disputed border areas between the two countries, or the status of the large number of southerners in the north as well as northerners who might be in the south - that is our biggest headache,Â? said Hassan.
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