As South Sudan crisis grows, Ethiopia becomes Africa's biggest refugee-hosting country

Briefing Notes, 19 August 2014

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 19 August 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Ethiopia has overtaken Kenya to become the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa, sheltering 629,718 refugees as of the end of July, the latest date for which we have figures. Kenya, still a major hosting country, is host to 575,334 registered refugees and asylum seekers.

The main factor in the increased numbers is the conflict in South Sudan, which erupted in mid-December last year and has sent 188,000 refugees into Ethiopia since the beginning of 2014. There are at present 247,000 South Sudanese refugees in the country, making them the largest refugee population.

They are followed by Somalis (245,000) and Eritreans (99,000). Over the last seven months, nearly 15,000 Eritreans and more than 3,000 Somalis also arrived in Ethiopia.

Together with the Ethiopian government and other partners, we are providing protection and humanitarian aid in 23 refugee camps and five transit sites around the country.

Three of the camps and three transit sites are new having been opened since the beginning of the year to handle the growing number of refugees fleeing the fighting in South Sudan. All three camps are at capacity and we are developing two more. While refugees wait to be moved to the new camps, more than 18,000 are sheltered in three temporary sites in Pagak, Pamdong and Matar in the western region of Gambella.

However, in recent weeks heavy rain has flooded these three low-lying sites, as well as Leitchuor Camp, where the situation is most serious. Some 10,000 refugees more than a fifth of Leitchuor's population of 47,600 have been hit by flooding. Many tents and shelters are under water and latrines have collapsed. This is a serious health concern and threatens to undermine gains made in preventing the outbreak of water-borne diseases. Refugees have pitched tents on higher camp roads.

With the rainy season set to last until October, we are working with our partners to drain the accumulated rainwater into a nearby small stream as quickly as possible. We are also speeding up development of the new Nip Nip camp-some three kilometers from Leitchuor. It will be able to accommodate 20,000 refugees. In the meantime, we are moving affected refugees from the roadside to drier spots of the camp and are sending relief items to the area to be distributed to refugees who have lost their meager belongings in the floods.

Most of the Gambella region is at a low elevation and flood-prone. UNHCR continues to work with the government at the federal and regional level to identify additional sites that are less susceptible to flooding.

Additional Info

South Sudan's crisis has caused massive displacement internally and into neighbouring countries. As of 14 August, 1.861 million South Sudanese had been forcibly displaced, of whom 1,287,831 are internally displaced and 576,340 were refugees in neighbouring countries. South Sudan is also continuing to host some 243,000 refugees, the majority from Sudan.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Ethiopia, Kisut Gebre Egziabher on mobile +25 19 11 20 89 01
  • In Kenya, Terry Ongaro on mobile +254 735 337 608
  • In Geneva, Ariane Rummery on mobile +41 79 200 7617
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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.

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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

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

For years, migrants and asylum-seekers have flocked to the northern French port of Calais in hopes of crossing the short stretch of sea to find work and a better life in England. This hope drives many to endure squalid, miserable conditions in makeshift camps, lack of food and freezing temperatures. Some stay for months waiting for an opportunity to stow away on a vehicle making the ferry crossing.

Many of the town's temporary inhabitants are fleeing persecution or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. And although these people are entitled to seek asylum in France, the country's lack of accommodation, administrative hurdles and language barrier, compel many to travel on to England where many already have family waiting.

With the arrival of winter, the crisis in Calais intensifies. To help address the problem, French authorities have opened a day centre as well as housing facilities for women and children. UNHCR is concerned with respect to the situation of male migrants who will remain without shelter solutions. Photographer Julien Pebrel recently went to Calais to document their lives in dire sites such as the Vandamme squat and next to the Tioxide factory.

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

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

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.
Ethiopia: Far From Home Play video

Ethiopia: Far From Home

Nyabuka Lam arrived in Pagak, Ethiopia in September after escaping armed men who shot her three children and husband back in her home country, South Sudan. After walking for 15 days to reach the safety of Pagak, she is now finally on a path to recovery.