Refugee crisis in South Sudan now world's fastest growing

Uganda and regional states are overwhelmed and in critical need of help.

A South Sudanese refugee looks out of a truck before being transported to the recently established Imvepi settlement, at the Imvepi Reception Centre, Arua District, Northern Region, Uganda.  © UNHCR/David Azia

GENEVA – Driven by fresh fighting, horrendous acts of violence and facing drought and famine, thousands of people are fleeing South Sudan, making it the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.

Total displacement from South Sudan into the surrounding region has now reached 1.6 million people, an astonishingly high percentage of the country’s former total population of some 11 million. The rate of new displacement is alarming, representing an impossible burden on a region that is economically challenged and fast running short of resources to cope.

“No neighbouring country is immune. Refugees are fleeing into Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Central African Republic. Almost half have crossed into Uganda, where in the country’s north, the situation is now critical,” UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch told a press briefing in Geneva.

Uganda: South Sudanese seeking refuge "everywhere they can"

“Until recently we were seeing new arrivals there at a rate of around 2,000 people daily. The influx peaked in February at more than 6,000 in a single day. In March, the peak in a single day has been more than 5,000 with the current daily average of over 2,800 arrivals,” he added.

Transit facilities in northern Uganda set up to deal with the newly arriving refugees from South Sudan are stretched to breaking point. Recent rains in the area have not helped and have added to the misery.

South Sudanese refugees queue for food at a reception centre in Arua, in northern Uganda.  © HCR/David Azia

Today’s situation in Uganda is proving to be the first and major test of commitments made at last September’s Summit for Refugees and Migrants in New York, including a key commitment to apply a game-changing approach to refugee situations worldwide - known as the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF).

Uganda is a frontline state for this new approach. Along with five other countries it has agreed to champion the CRRF by taking actions to integrate humanitarian efforts with developmental ones. These include providing land to refugees, including refugees in national development plans, and allowing them to access job markets.

“These efforts are at grave risk of failing unless there is urgent and large-scale additional support. At present funding for South Sudanese refugees in the region is at just eight per cent out of the required US$781.8 million. UNHCR’s own funding appeal for Uganda is short by more than a quarter of a billion dollars (US$267 million),” Baloch concluded.