May 2, 2015 (ADDIS ABABA) – The number of South Sudanese refugees who have fled to Ethiopia since fighting broke out in mid-December 2013 in South Sudan has reached 200,000, with many more expected to cross into Ethiopia amid escalation of fresh fighting in Upper Nile state, the United Nations refugee agency reported on Friday.
A South Sudanese refugee with her child on one of the buses that moved volunteers from the flood-prone Leitchuor and Nip Nip refugee camps in western Ethiopia (Photo courtesy of the UNHCR)
A senior field staff for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said he had observed a sharp increase in new South Sudanese arrivals from some 1,000 people a month in the first quarter of this year to more than 4,000 refugees registered in April.
“We have to save lives. We are conducting registration of refugees with an increased number of staff at entry points,” said Alexander Kishara, who heads the activities of the Office of UNHCR in Gambella, the capital of Gambella region in Ethiopia.
He said the UN refugee agency was registering more than 10,000 new arrivals at various entry points in Gambella region, which borders both Upper Nile and Jonglei states in South Sudan.
“UNHCR is also working with partners to provide water, sanitation and shelter,” he added, in report seen by Sudan Tribune on Friday.
Some 199,000 of the refugees are in western Ethiopia’s Gambella region while about 3,000 are in neighbouring Benishangul-Gumuz region, north-east of Gambella.
The new arrivals, he added, tell stories of walking for several days through the bushes with little or no food and water and carrying few or no belongings.
The refugees are being relocated to the Pugnido refugee camp, which currently hosts nearly 60,000 South Sudanese refugees, and the Tierkidi refugee camp, which hosts about 50,000. These camps are being enlarged to cope with the new influx.
The refugees are mainly women, children and the elderly people. Most are fleeing from renewed fighting in Upper Nile and Jonglei states or as a precautionary measure. Some young men say they are fleeing from alleged forced conscription to join either side in the war.
A young mother told Sudan Tribune that she fled her home when she was already nine months pregnant and had to give birth on the way. She crossed into Ethiopia with her family at the Pagak’s South Sudanese entry point, where more than 7,000 new arrivals are being registered before being transferred to camps.
The arrivals since December 2013 added to a refugee population from South Sudan of about 58,000, most of whom have been staying in the country for more than 20 years and did not return to the country even after independence.
Ethiopia is Africa’s largest refugee-hosting nation with nearly 700,000 refugees from neighbouring countries, including South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea.
The new arrivals, who are being provided with high energy biscuits and relief items such as mattresses and plastic sheets for shelter, say more people are on their way to Ethiopia.
UNHCR is working with Ethiopia’s government and other partners to provide humanitarian assistance.