Irish president urges stepped up aid for South Sudan refugees in Ethiopia

President Michael D. Higgins makes a call for stepped up assistance during a visit to Tierkidi refugee camp in western Ethiopia's Gambella region.

Ireland's President Michael D. Higgins during his visit to meet South Sudanese refugees in eastern Ethiopia.  © UNHCR Photo

TIERKIDI REFUGEE CAMP, Ethiopia, November 5 (UNHCR) - Ireland's President Michael D. Higgins has called on the international community to do much more to help tens of thousands of South Sudanese refugees in western Ethiopia.

"It is quite scandalous" that less than half of the amount needed to provide protection and assistance to the refugees had come from the international community, Higgins said on Tuesday during a visit to the Tierkidi Refugee Camp in Ethiopia's Gambella region. "The international community needs to do more," he stressed.

Angele Djohossou, head of the UNHCR sub-office in Gambella, had earlier told Higgins that only 46 percent of funding required for operations this year to meet the needs of the South Sudan refugees had been received so far.

Higgins, who praised the government and people of Ethiopia for taking in so many refugees, said stepped up assistance and funding would enable the provision of basic life-saving services, especially for refugees living in flood-affected areas.

During his tour of Tierkidi, home to almost 50,000 South Sudanese refugees, the Irish president watched malnourished children receive nutritional services under an Irish Aid programme. He told aid workers that Ireland has contributed US$2.6 million to humanitarian operations in the region. Despite its financial problems in recent years, Ireland donated a substantial US$13 million to UNHCR in 2013.

Since the outbreak of conflict in South Sudan in mid-December 2013, more than 190,000 South Sudanese have crossed into the Gambella region to seek refuge amid continuing fighting and elusive attempts to find peace. The new refugee arrivals add to the existing South Sudan refugee population of more than 43,000. Ethiopia provides shelter to more than 600,000 refugees, mainly from South Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea.