In Ethiopia, UNHCR is seeing a sharp increase in refugees fleeing South Sudan’s conflict, after government forces captured the rebel stronghold of Nasir in the Greater Upper Nile region over the weekend.
Over the past 72 hours, over 11,000 people have crossed into the Ethiopian town of Burubiey, a small remote community on the shores of the Baro River which marks the border between the two countries.
The refugees tell us that more people are on their way, with many amassed on the South Sudanese side of the border waiting to cross the river on one of the few small ferry boats. The newly arrived refugees, all ethnic Nuers, report thousands more are fleeing Nasir, some 30 km from the border. The refugees are being registered on arrival and receive basic medical and nutritional care plus relief items at a reception centre opened last week by UNHCR and Ethiopia’s Administration for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA).
UNHCR and its partners, including ARRA and the Ethiopian Red Cross Society, MSF, WFP, IOM, are all rapidly scaling up their responses to meet the surge in new arrivals – some of them wounded and in urgent need of medical help – and to improve the crowded conditions. Thousands of people are still waiting to be registered, and we are moving staff from the nearby Leitchuor refugee camp to Burubiey to help, while giving priority to people with urgent health and nutrition needs. We are also working on flying additional staff and relief items to the area.
Once registered, refugees are being moved to Kule refugee camp, which lies some 250 km to the East. This camp is fast approaching its capacity of 40,000 refugees, and a new camp is being established nearby to accommodate another 30,000 people. Our partner IOM is also increasing its capacity to transport people way from the border to the established camps. Heavy rains are expected any time and this will make the relocation of refugees from Burubiey challenging.
The vast majority of new arrivals are still women and children (more than 70 per cent), although an increasing number of men are now also fleeing. More than 110,000 refugees have fled South Sudan to Ethiopia since the outbreak of violence last December. So far, around 102,000 have gone through Level 1 registration. They are staying in four camps in Ethiopia’s western Gambella Regional State, run by UNHCR and ARRA. Another 205,000 refugees have fled to Uganda (102,698), Sudan (67,401) and Kenya (34,770) while some 923,000 people are displaced inside South Sudan itself. Overall, more than 1.3 million are displaced from the current crisis so far.
Meanwhile the inter-agency appeal for the South Sudanese Refugee Emergency remains dramatically underfunded, with only 14 per cent of the requested US$370 million appeal received. As the number of displaced people continues to rise, we expect to increase our appeal in the coming days.