• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

UNHCR, WFP Leaders Witness Shocking State of South Sudanese Refugees during Ethiopia Visit

Press Releases, 2 April 2014

ADDIS ABABA, 2 April 2014 As tens of thousands of South Sudanese continue to flee their conflict-torn homeland, the heads of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) travelled to Ethiopia's border region of Gambella from neighboring South Sudan to meet refugees who recently fled the conflict.

The refugees, mostly women and children, reported walking up to three weeks before reaching the border. Many described surviving on grass, wild fruits and leaves. They were visibly exhausted, traumatized and famished, and scores of young children are registering an alarmingly high malnutrition rates.

During their visit to Gambella, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres and WFP's Executive Director Ertharin Cousin, together with humanitarian partners and Ethiopian officials, visited the newly-built Kule Camp which houses over 23,000 South Sudanese refugees and the Pagak border entry point, where hundreds of people cross daily from South Sudan.

"The physical and psychological condition of these people is shocking. This is a tragedy I had hoped I would not see again," Mr. Guterres said. "Many of these people are becoming refugees for the second time."

Altogether, over 88,000 South Sudanese have sought refuge in Ethiopia since the conflict erupted in mid-December 2013. The two Agency chiefs expressed concern that the numbers could climb sharply in the coming months if the conflict does not come to an end, and worry that lack of funds could thwart an adequate humanitarian response.

"Today we witnessed a mother arrive in Ethiopia where help was available, only to lose her youngest child, who was too weakened by their journey. This is a political crisis that is now evolving into a humanitarian catastrophe," Ms. Cousin said. "We must work together and redouble our efforts to ensure that people receive nutritious food, clean water and other basic services on both sides of the border, so that not another mother cries like she did today because she loses her child."

WFP delivers high energy biscuits and other food (sorghum or wheat, pulses, vegetable oil, sugar and salt) at the border points and in camps, along with fortified nutritional supplements to those malnourished, particularly children under five years old, pregnant women and nursing mothers.

UNHCR and the Government of Ethiopia, through its refugee agency, ARRA, coordinate the response with humanitarian partners. UNHCR is providing medical assistance, shelter in the new camps Lietchuor and Kule as well as water and sanitation, core relief items and other protection services to the arriving refugees at the major points of entry. UNHCR has prioritized vulnerable groups, in particular children with severe acute malnutrition and their families for relocation to the new camps. In addition, UNHCR and ARRA continue registration of arriving individuals.

The two UN chiefs arrived in Ethiopia following a two-day visit to South Sudan, where they met displaced people, humanitarian partners and discussed the crisis with President Salva Kiir and other government officials.

"Peace is an absolute must," Mr. Guterres said. "The international community must come together to do everything possible to press the parties to reach a political solution and forge peace. If there is no peace soon, I fear there could be a true humanitarian calamity."

Last week, WFP launched a major cross-border operation from Ethiopia, to deliver roughly 15,000 metric tons of food by air, river boat and truck to several hundred thousand South Sudanese and Sudanese refugees living in remote and inaccessible parts of South Sudan. Ms. Cousin expressed her appreciation to the Ethiopian government for authorizing this corridor noting truck delivery is also significantly less expensive than the airdrops WFP is also having to deploy.

Nearly 255,000 South Sudanese have sought refuge in the neighboring countries of Uganda, Kenya and Sudan, as well as Ethiopia. The massive influx is straining the humanitarian response.

UNHCR has deployed a Mi-8 transport helicopter, with room for 20 passengers and a cargo capacity of four metric tons, to the Gambella operation to assist refugees arriving at the Akobo entry point, a hard-to-reach location.

UNHCR is leading an inter-agency regional appeal for more than US$ 370 million to fund the refugee response in Ethiopia, Kenya, Republic of Sudan and Uganda.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. On average, WFP reaches more than 90 million people with food assistance in 80 countries each year.

UNHCR leads and co-ordinates international action to protect refugees and safeguard their rights and work for their well-being.

Follow us on Twitter: @refugees and @wfp

For more information please contact:

  • Elizabeth Bryant, WFP/Ethiopia, Mob. +251 93 007 7708 elizabeth.bryant@wfp.org
  • Gregory Barrow, WFP/London, Tel. +44 20 72409001, Mob. +44 7968 008474 gregory.barrow@wfp.org
  • Bettina Luescher, WFP/New York, Tel. +1 646 5566909, Mob. +1 646 8241112 bettina.luescher@wfp.org
  • Steve Taravella, WFP/Washington DC, Tel. +1 202 653 1149 Mob. +1 202 770 5993 steve.taravella@wfp.org
  • Melissa Fleming, UNHCR, Mob. +41 79 557 9122, fleming@unhcr.org
  • Kisut Gebre Egzibher, UNHCR/Ethiopia: Mob. +251 91 120 8901 gegziabk@unhcr.org



UNHCR country pages

South Sudan Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Donate now and help to provide emergency aid to tens of thousands of people fleeing South Sudan to escape violence.

Donate to this crisis

Down Through the Generations, Conflict Forces Flight in South Sudan

In what is now South Sudan, families have been fleeing fighting for generations since conflict first erupted there in 1955. The Sudan War ended in 1972, then flared up again in 1983 and dragged on for 22 years to the peace deal in 2005 that led to the south's independence from Sudan in 2011.

But the respite was shortlived. One year ago, fresh conflict broke out between government and opposition supporters in the world's newest country, forcing 1.9 million people in the nation of 11 million from their homes. Most - 1.4 million - ended up somewhere else within South Sudan. Now older people live in stick-and-tarpaulin huts with their children, and their children's children, all three generations - sometimes four - far from home due to yet more war.

The largest settlement for such families is near the town of Mingkaman in South Sudan's Lakes state, close to the central city of Bor. More than 100,000 internally displaced people live in the settlement, located a few hours boat ride up the Nile from the capital, Juba. Photographer Andrew McConnell recently visited Mingkaman to follow the daily life of six families and find out how the wars have affected them.

Down Through the Generations, Conflict Forces Flight in South Sudan

Displacement in South Sudan: A Camp Within a Camp

In the three weeks since South Sudan erupted in violence, an estimated 200,000 South Sudanese have found themselves displaced within their own country. Some 57,000 have sought sanctuary at bases of UN peace-keepers across the country. These photos by UNHCR's Senior Regional Public Information Officer Kitty McKinsey give a glimpse of the daily life of the 14,000 displaced people inside the UN compound known locally as Tong Ping, near the airport in Juba, South Sudan's capital. Relief agencies, including UNHCR, are rallying to bring shelter, blankets and other aid items, but in the first days, displaced people had to fend for themselves. The compounds have taken on all the trappings of small towns, with markets, kiosks, garbage collection and public bathing facilities. Amazingly, children still manage to smile and organize their own games with the simplest of materials.

Displacement in South Sudan: A Camp Within a Camp

Emergency food distribution in South Sudan's Jonglei state

Humanitarian organizations in South Sudan are working to deliver emergency assistance to some of the tens of thousands of people displaced by armed conflict in Jonglei state. Most of those uprooted have fled into the bush or have walked for days to reach villages away from the fighting. Others have journeyed even greater distances to find sanctuary in the neighbouring countries of Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda. Gaining access to those affected in an insecure and isolated area has been a significant challenge for aid workers. Since mid-July, an airlift has been providing food supplies to families living in two previously inaccessible villages and where humanitarian agencies have established temporary bases. As part of the "cluster approach" to humanitarian emergencies, which brings together partners working in the same response sector, UNHCR is leading the protection cluster to ensure the needs of vulnerable individuals among the displaced are addressed.

Emergency food distribution in South Sudan's Jonglei state

South Sudan: Four Years On from IndependencePlay video

South Sudan: Four Years On from Independence

In 2011 the people of South Sudan celebrated their independence. Four years later, the world's newest nation is one of the world's worst humanitarian situations. In December 2013, conflict erupted displacing 2 million people including more than 600,000 refugees. South Sudanese has fled to Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan. The crisis has especially impacted the next generation of South Sudanese, 70% of those displaced are children.
South Sudan Crisis: One Year OnPlay video

South Sudan Crisis: One Year On

Uganda: A Father's TroublesPlay video

Uganda: A Father's Troubles

Forty-five-year-old Gabriel fled South Sudan with his wife and children to find safety in the UN compound in Bor. But, in April 2014, his wife was killed when an armed mob forced their way in, and now he is a single father to five children, seeking a better life in Uganda.