UNHCR begins the relocation of 50,000 flood-affected refugees in Ethiopia

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Karin de Gruijl to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR started the relocation this week of more than 50,000 South Sudanese refugees from flood-prone areas ahead of the rainy season, which is expected to start in late April. The refugees are being moved from the Leitchuor and Nip Nip refugee camps in the Gambella region, western Ethiopia. Last year, in August, both camps were severely hit by flood waters during unusually heavy seasonal rains, causing the Baro river to burst its banks.

The first group of 377 refugees left in a convoy of 11 vehicles, including buses, ambulance, a luggage truck and security escort. The refugees received high energy biscuits and water as they boarded the buses for the 300-kilometer long journey, which takes about eight hours.

A total of 51,316 refugees from flood-prone areas in the two camps will be relocated (2,888 refugees from Nip Nip and 48,428 from Leitchuor). The group from Nip Nip will be moved to the existing Pugnido camp, which currently hosts nearly 56,000 South Sudanese refugees. An additional camp, Jewi, located some 18 kilometers from the regional capital Gambella was opened over the weekend. The new camp is now being developed to accommodate the larger group of refugees from Leitchuor and their transfer will start in early April this year.

Finding the land with the right conditions to set up another refugee camp has been a huge challenge, as several sites that had been identified immediately after last year's rainy season were subsequently declared unsuitable. However, more land is still needed to accommodate new arrivals from South Sudan.

UNHCR is undertaking the relocation exercise in collaboration with the Government of Ethiopia represented by the Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) and other organizations, including the International Organization for Migration (IOM) which is transporting the refugees.

Some 2 million people have been uprooted by the violence in South Sudan since December 2013. Nearly 1.5 million people are internally displaced inside the country and more than half a million across the border into neighbouring countries, many of them to Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is Africa's largest refugee-hosting country with more than 670,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia, followed by South Sudan, Sudan and Eritrea. This includes more than 250,000 South Sudanese refugees in the Gambella region, of whom more than 194,000 have arrived since mid-December 2013.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Geneva, Karin de Gruijl on mobile +41 79 255 9213
  • In Addis Ababa, Andreas Needham +251 936 01 06 72
  • In Gambella, Sulaiman Momodu on mobile +251 935 978519