Thousands of Lou Nuer tribesmen flee Jonglei into Ethiopia

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 13 March 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Thousands of Lou Nuer tribespeople from South Sudan are seeking refuge in western Ethiopia. Most are women, children and elderly people who fled from Akobo County in Jonglei State following clashes there earlier this year.

An estimated 15,000 people have entered Ethiopia since mid-February. They cite clashes with rival Murle tribesmen and fear of reprisal attacks as the main reason for their flight. Many of them say they were displaced for weeks in Jonglei before they managed to reach Ethiopia.

In Jonglei State Murle and Lou Nuer tribespeople have been engaged in deadly attacks and counter-attacks over cattle, grazing land and water points for several years. Clashes between these two tribes in December and January have affected some 120,000 people in the Jonglei region.

Fresh fighting between the two tribes was reported last weekend in Akobo, and UNHCR is concerned at the possibility of further forced displacement.

In Ethiopia, the new arrivals are settling around the border town of Matar in the Gambella region, some 500 kilometres west of Addis Ababa. Most of them are living in makeshift huts, according to a team of UNHCR and partner agencies that visited the area twice with the Ethiopian authorities.

The local communities in Matar have been sharing their meager resources with the new arrivals, including food and water. The influx has stretched water and sanitation facilities beyond capacity. The World Food Programme is extending food distribution to this area to benefit both communities.

UNHCR is helping the Ethiopian authorities to set up a reception centre near Matar, where the new arrivals are being screened by the Ethiopian refugee agency (ARRA) before they are relocated to Fugnido refugee camp, some 110 kilometres from Gambella. We have so far transferred 1,300 new arrivals to the camp, where they are registered as asylum-seekers and issued with food ration cards.

UNHCR has also dispatched additional staff to support the governments registration efforts in Fugnido. Registration is needed to best organize the delivery of protection and assistance to the population in need, including targeted assistance to those identified as vulnerable.

Last week, UNHCR started distributing to families who arrived in Fugnido an initial aid kit including tents, plastic sheets, blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans from our stockpile in Gambella. ARRA provides them with food. We have pre-positioned more relief items, including family tents for those asylum-seekers who will be transferred from the border area to Fugnido.

Fugnido refugee camp was opened in 1993 and hosted some 40,000 refugees at one point. Before the new influx, it was home to some 23,000 refugees, mainly from Sudan. Now these long-staying refugees are hosting and extending their help to the new arrivals from South Sudan.

For further information on these topics, please contact:

  • In Nairobi (UNHCR regional hub): Vivian Tan, mobile: +254 735 337 608

  • In Addis Ababa: Kisut Gebre Egziabher on mobile: +251 911 208 901

  • In Addis Ababa: Natalia Prokopchuk on mobile +251 911 210271

  • In Juba: Terry Ongaro on mobile: +211 927 770 040

  • In Geneva, Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 3483