by Sara Fajardo, CRS communications officer

The March 2 and 5 attacks in the contested oil rich region of Abyei, Sudan, have led to estimates of more than 100 dead and 20,000-25,000, nearly half the population, deserting Abyei town. Abyei is proving to be one of the most difficult areas to resolve between northern and southern Sudan: both lay claims to the land.

Previous incidences in May, 2008, in which Abyei town was attacked and burned have left people concerned that the violence might escalate. According to our church contacts in the region, people are moving south of Abyei, along the Kiir River.

While the city has been almost completely evacuated, the security situation in the areas south of Abyei where people have set up temporary homes remains stable. Initial reports show that the majority of people have fled to the neighboring community of Agok. Many of the people who fled are carrying numerous household items with them, which leads members of the Catholic Relief Services’ team (CRS is a Caritas member and part of the coordinated Caritas response in southern Sudan) on the ground to believe that they may have recently arrived to Abyei from northern Sudan. Returnees from northern Sudan could be the most vulnerable group and the ones with the greatest need for shelter and food assistance. Some former Abyei town residents set up homes in Agok the last time there was a flare up of violence in 2008.

Reports from our Church partners suggest that this will be a prolonged displacement of people. Southern Sudan is still struggling to meet the needs of the migration of more than 249,000 people returning to southern Sudan in response to the recent secession vote. As a result, southern Sudan will officially become the world’s newest nation on July 9. An additional 20,000-25,000 displaced people will further tax the already strained resources of the southern Sudanese government.

Catholic Relief Services has positioned supplies in the region and is ready to respond with emergency shelter and non-food items for up to 14,000 people. People who are currently sleeping in the open are reporting food as one of the most immediate needs. The market in Abyei Town has very little at the moment and food is quickly running out.

Reported by Sara Fajardo, CRS communications officer for sub-Saharan Africa. She is based in Nairobi, Kenya. This story first appeared on the CRS blog