BUSIA, Uganda (Reuters) - The number of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda hit one million on Thursday, the United Nations said, as hundreds of desperate families pour across the border every day seeking a haven from the civil war.
The conflict in South Sudan has created Africa’s biggest refugee crisis since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and U.N. agencies are receiving a fraction of the cash they need to provide food and shelter.
But the crowds keep flowing across rickety wooden bridges near the northwestern Ugandan border town of Busia, staggering under the weight of babies and a few pots or bundles of clothing balanced on their heads.
Women and children make up more than 85 percent of the arrivals.
“Two weeks ago my husband’s uncle was killed,” said Stella Taji, as she trudged barefoot over the bridge, a toddler clinging to her hand. “Since then we’ve been hiding in the bush. We have nothing.”
Oil-rich South Sudan became the world’s youngest nation in 2011, upon its independence from neighboring Sudan, but the elation soon evaporated amid corruption and ethnic divisions.
Troops loyal to President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and forces under former vice president Riek Machar, from the Nuer ethnic group, have battled each other since late 2013, killing tens of thousands and forcing nearly a third of the population of 12 million to flee their homes.
The trickle of refugees into Uganda swelled into a river last year after a shaky Western-backed peace deal between Kiir and Machar collapsed within months.
The conflict has further fragmented since, breeding a patchwork of militias and briefly plunging parts of the country into famine this year.
No one knows how many have died, but an August report by South Africa-based South Sudan Human Rights Observatory said 987 civilians were killed in violence across South Sudan between May and July, mostly by government forces.
“They are slaughtering people with knives,” said Samuel Amule, who trekked for two days to the border to escape government attacks. “They say, ‘If you are staying here, you are a rebel.’”