CAIRO (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of Sudanese may flee to neighbouring countries if fighting breaks out after southern Sudan holds a referendum on secession next month, according to a United Nations assessment.
The plebiscite, promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war, is scheduled for January 9 and political analysts say the south is likely to vote to separate.
Some analysts say disputes over oil regions and other issues could reignite conflict after the vote.
Contingency plans drawn up by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) suggest up to 100,000 southern Sudanese could be displaced to Uganda, 100,000 to Kenya, 80,000 to Ethiopia and 50,000 to Egypt in 2011 if war breaks out after southern independence.
"We hope that nothing will happen ... but indeed it's felt that some forms of displacement may happen from Southern Sudan into the neighbouring countries of asylum," Mohamed Dayri, regional UNHCR representative, said in an interview.
Security problems after the referendum might push some of the roughly 1.5 million Southern Sudanese living in and around the Sudanese capital Khartoum to flee north to Egypt, he said.
Egyptian officials have suggested a big influx of migrants might be unwelcome in a country already home to tens of thousands of refugees and whose own growing population has strained infrastructure and social services.
In 2005, Egyptian police killed more than two dozen Sudanese when they broke up a sit-in by asylum seekers demanding resettlement in the West.
Egypt hosts about 18,000 registered Southern Sudanese refugees, many displaced during decades of civil war in which an estimated 2 million people were killed and 4 million fled, destabilising much of east Africa.
Dayri said the UNHCR was preparing to issue an appeal next month to raise money for the possible costs of dealing with potential displacement after the referendum.
"We hope that an all-out war wouldn't happen in Sudan, because this is the worst scenario that we could contemplate," he said.
"But most likely, forms of displacement may happen within Southern Sudan, from Southern Sudan into the neighbouring countries of asylum, and maybe from Khartoum to Southern Sudan and to neighbouring countries like Eritrea or Egypt."