Two Sudanese refugees were killed on Wednesday by armed youth in Twic County of Warrap State while on transit from Abyei to Wedweil refugee settlement near Aweil in Northern Bahr el Ghazal State, the UN Refugee Agency has said.

The two refugees, aged 21 and 62, both from Sudan’s Blue Nile State, were aboard a UNHCR convoy when the armed youth surrounded the vehicle, forcing everyone to alight, abducting the two while the rest proceeded to Wedweil, the agency said in a statement issued on Thursday in Juba.

It stated that after the kidnap, local authorities later reported that both had been found dead.

Marie-Helene Verney, UNHCR Country Representative, who is also the acting Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, condemns these killings as “tragic and senseless.”

“This tragic and senseless incident puts into question our entire strategy to relocate refugees arriving in South Sudan through Abyei to a safe location in Wedweil, where we opened a new settlement to receive refugees fleeing the Sudan crisis,” she said.

“Humanitarian partners have taken the lion’s share of the immensely challenging job of moving people in distress who arrived at the South Sudan border fleeing for safety, however, the responsibility of ensuring that returnees, refugees, and humanitarian workers are safe lies firmly with the South Sudan’s Government,”Ms Verney added.

In a separate incident on the same day, a boat facilitated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) began taking on water as it was leaving the port of Kodok, in Upper Nile State.

The incident was caused by winds and rough water, according to UNHCR.

UNHCR said local authorities and humanitarian partners immediately launched a rescue operation, and all on board were moved to different boats and proceeded safely to Malakal. 

The Agency said the two incidents highlight the considerable challenges that humanitarian partners are facing trying to help refugees and South Sudanese who are fleeing the fighting in Sudan to reach safety.

“Transport by river remains the only viable option to move returning South Sudanese arriving through the Joda Border Crossing Point to Malakal, and from there to their final destination,” said John McCue, IOM Chief of Mission in South Sudan, adding, “The risks and challenges are huge but keeping people in Renk is not an option as reception sites are overcrowded and provision of basic services is stretched to breaking point.”

Since the start of the Sudan crisis in April, IOM has moved more than 105,000 people out of Renk by river and another 59,000 by plane to their final destinations across the country.

Both agencies are calling for renewed efforts from the Government to facilitate transportation of refugees and returnees to safe locations.

According to UNHCR, more than 438,000 people have arrived in South Sudan to escape the conflict in Sudan since April, of which 365,000 are South Sudanese and 71,000 refugees.