UNHCR flies in more aid for South Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia; relocates refugees to higher ground as rainy season approaches

Briefing Notes, 15 April 2014

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 15 April 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Geneva, 15 April 2014 As the number of South Sudanese refugees fleeing to Ethiopia passes the 95,000 mark, UNHCR and its partners are working to improve conditions in the western Gambella region flying in new tents, building new camps, and moving refugees to higher ground as the rainy season approaches.

Yesterday (14 April 2014), the first flight in an airlift of 4,000 emergency tents arrived at Gambella local airport. The first batch of 400 tents is being sent today to Lietchuor refugee camp, 125 kilometres from Gambella town. The remaining tents will arrive on six more flights over the coming days and be distributed to other camps operated by UNHCR and Ethiopia's Administration of Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA) in Gambella Regional State.

UNHCR has now finished relocating refugees that were living in low-lying water-prone areas in Kule camp (42 kilometres from Gambella town) to higher ground. A similar relocation will start at Leitchuor camp today. With the rainy season approaching, some parts of the camps were already affected by flooding. In these areas, we are also closing down latrines to avoid water contamination.

Also over the weekend, UNHCR and ARRA started preparations on a new camp close to Kule on land donated by the Gambella regional administration. The new camp will accommodate up to 30,000 refugees and be located on high ground, thus helping to avoid flood-related problems like the spread of disease. Work is already underway to clear the area and the camp is expected to be ready to receive refugees by the end of April.

Refugees continue to arrive from South Sudan into the Gambella region at a rate of 800 to 1,000 people per day, mainly through the Pagak border point. They are predominantly (95 percent) women and children from the Upper Nile State, with many citing fear and food scarcity as the main reasons for their flight. Many women report the men are forcibly recruited, while others have been killed. Some refugees have walked up to three weeks to cross the border and malnutrition rates among children remain high -- so far, more than 4,000 malnourished children are enrolled in nutrition programmes in the camps, while some 3,500 lactating women are receiving supplementary feeding. However, we have noticed a slight easing in the number of arrivals to Ethiopia since the start of WFP food airdrops in South Sudan itself.

With the ongoing influx and rainy season imminent, regional authorities have now granted new land on higher ground at the Pagak border point for the construction of a transitional reception centre. The new transit centre will accommodate up to 5,000 people and provide accommodation while refugees are registered and receive vaccinations, health, nutrition, and other basic services.

Meanwhile, UNHCR has deployed a helicopter to transport vulnerable people the elderly, the disabled, pregnant and lactating women, newborns and sick people from the Akobo border point to the Lietchuour refugee camp. Most refugees arriving to Akobo, travel by boat up to 15 hours to Burubiey, another entry point, from where they are eventually settled in refugee camps. Some 190 vulnerable people unfit to make the long boat trip have already been moved to Leitchor camp in eleven 30 minute flights over the past two weeks. The operation is continuing.

Some 86,000 refugees fleeing South Sudan's current conflict now reside in four camps [Kule, Lietchuor, Pugnido and Okugo], with a further 9,600 still to be relocated from border points (mainly Pagak and Akobo).

UNHCR and partners need to raise USD 102 million to provide for the basic needs of South Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia. Within this total, UNHCR requires approximately USD 43.6 million, and only 12% of this has been funded so far.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Gambella town, Ethiopia, Luiz Fernando Godinho Santos: +251 935 978 519
  • In Geneva, Fatoumata Lejeune on mobile: +41 79 249 3483
  • In Geneva, Ariane Rummery on mobile: +41 79 200 7617
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