At Sudan border, long wait to escape Southern war
South Sudanese refugees arrive at a Sudanese border checkpoint in Joda after fleeing battles between rebel and government forces on January 16, 2014 - by Ashraf Shazly
Hundreds of crying children and exhausted adults have converged on the border post at Joda, where Sudan's White Nile state meets the South's Upper Nile, which saw heavy fighting this week.
They are among an estimated 10,000 who have fled north to Sudan in an exodus that the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says has seen more than 80,000 people seek safety abroad from deadly fighting between government and rebel forces in South Sudan over the past month.
"I fled from my home before sunset, and spent the night in a forest," a South Sudanese woman, who asked not to be named, told AFP.
Like others in Joda, the woman said she had come from Malakal, the Upper Nile state capital, about 300 kilometres (190 miles) southwest of the border.
"There was heavy fighting in Malakal," said the woman, aged 25.
On Monday, rebels staged an assault to seize back the city, where tank battles were reported in the streets. Both the government and rebels have claimed to control Malakal, one of three major cities in the south.
The woman said she caught a ride with a truck and reached Joda on Wednesday.
Others have been waiting at the border gate for longer, after arriving with not much more than some spare clothes carried in bags or wrapped in blankets.
Some pushed wheelbarrows loaded with mats and other belongings.
"We have been waiting here four days," said Samuel John, also a former Malakal resident.
He said they have neither received any aid nor been allowed to cross into Sudan.
"We are still at the border gate because the Sudanese authorities asked us for our identity documents. But we don't have any because we are fleeing the war," John said.
What the refugees want is transport "to anywhere in Sudan", he added before security agents ordered journalists away from the southerners.
Security officers said the restriction was for the journalists' safety because the displaced were upset at the delay in letting them cross the border.
The officers could not comment on why the South Sudanese were not being admitted.
President Omar al-Bashir said in early January that the frontier would be opened and South Sudanese were free to enter under an agreement governing the unrestricted flow of people between the two states.
A Sudanese refugee commission source said a team was on its way to Joda to begin registration of the refugees.
But on Friday only returning Sudanese were being processed, an AFP photographer saw.
Two trucks, which officials in Joda said carried aid, arrived in the area but it was not immediately distributed.
Sudan's relief needs are already strained by conflicts in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
UNHCR described as "nomads" the thousands who have fled north from South Sudan's violence, primarily to Sudan's Kordofan region, but says it has not had access to check numbers.
The official SUNA news agency said that up to 3,000 southern refugees have reached White Nile and Kordofan.
"We came because we heard that President Bashir ordered authorities to open the border for us," but the gate remains shut, said another escapee from Malakal, David Jiha.
"We ask the UN and international agencies to help these women and children," Jiha said at the border post in a flat landscape dotted with low trees.
Some of the displaced southerners have attached blankets to the branches, forming rough shelters where they hide from the burning sun.