The UN Migration Agency appealed on Friday for the immediate liberation of a volunteer and child who remain missing since a gun battle in South Sudan at the weekend that claimed the lives of three agency workers.
According to IOM, they were caught in the crossfire between two armed groups in Isebi, Morobo County, in South Sudan’s Central Equatoria region.
The volunteers had been manning an Ebola screening point in border areas between South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, tracking the spread of the deadly disease that has killed more than 2,180 people in DRC since last August.
Speaking in Geneva, spokesperson Paul Dillon repeated the call “for the unconditional release of a female volunteer and a four-year-old child abducted in South Sudan during gun battle on Sunday morning that claimed the lives of three IOM humanitarian workers”.
The three IOM workers were two men and a woman, and it is understood that it was her son that was abducted, Mr. Dillon said.
He added that “all possible action” was being taken “to get our colleague released from her abductors immediately without pre-conditions”.
For the time being the agency has halted operations in several border areas.
“Obviously, we are there for a reason, to monitor possible flows of Ebola into South Sudan,” Mr. Dillon explained.
“These individuals in South Sudan as in many other countries are very much on the front line in this response.”
He added: “We have suspended our operations in five of those border areas until we can get clarity on the security situation and the commitment from all actors in that area that the security of our staff in that area will be safeguarded.”
IOM began operations in southern Sudan in early 2005 and established the IOM South Sudan mission after the country’s independence in July 2011.
Last month, Deputy Special Representative and Humanitarian/Resident Coordinator Alain Noudehou noted concerns that if Ebola spread to South Sudan, it risked overwhelming the healthcare system.
Since the outbreak of civil war in December 2013, IOM has provided support to thousands of host communities, returnees and internally displaced people.
This includes those seeking protection at the United Nations Mission in South Sudan Protection of Civilians sites, IOM said in a statement.