By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
November 8, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – The Irish president has called on the international community to provide more humanitarian assistance to support South Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia.
Michael D. Higgins made the comments after paying a visit to camps in Ethiopia’s western region of Gambella, currently sheltering the tens of thousands of South Sudanese refugees.
He said “it is quite scandalous” that less than half the amount needed to provide services to South Sudanese refugees has come from the international community.
Angele Djohossou, head of the UN refugee agency’s (UNHCR) sub-office in Gambella, had earlier told Higgins that only 46 per cent of funding required to meet the needs of South Sudanese refugees this year had been received so far.
“The international community needs to do more,” he said, urging donor countries to honour their pledges of support.
He commended Ethiopia, particularly the people of the Gambella region, for “giving an example in humanity to the world” in receiving the refugees.
During his tour to refugee camps this week, the Irish leader witnessed malnourished children receiving nutritional services under an Irish aid programme.
Higgins said his country has contributed $2.6 million to humanitarian operations in the region.
This is in addition to a substantial $13 million in funds Ireland committed to the UNHCR in 2013.
Since the outbreak of conflict in South Sudan in mid-December last year, some 191,000 South Sudanese, mostly women and children, have crossed the border to Ethiopia.
According to UNHCR, the figure excludes the more than 43,000 South Sudanese refugees already sheltering in Ethiopia before the latest eruption of violence.
The conflict, triggered by a political dispute within the country’s ruling party (SPLM), has led to the displacement of more than 1.5 million people and plunged the young nation to the brink of famine.
Ongoing peace talks in Ethiopia between government and rebel forces have failed to yield a lasting political settlement to the crisis, with negotiations hampered by disagreements and fresh outbreaks of violence.