By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
August 19, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) announced on Tuesday that Ethiopia has become Africa’s biggest refugee-hosting country, overtaking neighbouring Kenya.
- South Sudanese refugee Nyarout Chuol sits with children displaced by the conflict at the UNHCR’s Kule refugee camp in Ethiopia’s Gambella region (Photo: William Davison)
UNHCR said Ethiopia, which is currently sheltering 629,718 refugees, took the lead at the end of July, surpassing Kenya, which is hosting a total of 575,334 refugees.
The large influx of South Sudanese refugees into Ethiopia is the driving factor behind the East African nation’s elevation to the continent’s largest refugee-hosting country
The conflict, which erupted in mid-December last year following a political split in South Sudan’s ruling party (SPLM), has killed an estimated 20,000 people and forcibly displaced over a million.
Over 188,000 South Sudanese refugees, mostly woman and children, have crossed into Ethiopia since the conflict erupted, swelling the country’s South Sudanese population to 247,000.
An UNHCR official recently told Sudan Tribune that Ethiopia currently receives an average of 1,000 South Sudanese refugees per day.
Kisut Gebregziabher, UNHCR’s senior public information officer in Addis Ababa, said although the number of new arrivals had halved since their peak in June and July, the current influx remained large.
He said the agency was in need of additional funding to meet the needs of the new arrivals.
“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,” said UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards.
According to UNHCR, more than 18,000 South Sudanese are sheltered in three temporary sites located in the western region of Gambella.
However, in recent weeks heavy rains have flooded low-lying sites, with Pagak, Pamdong, Matar and Leitchuor camps among the worst affected.
Some 10,000 refugees, over a fifth of Leitchuor’s population of 47,600, have been hit by heavy rains and flooding, raising serious health concerns and the threat of disease.
“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 3km from Leitchuor. It will be able to accommodate 20,000 refugees,” Edwards said.
Following the heavy rains, the refugee agency and its partners have in the meantime begun relocating affected refugees from the roadside to drier spots inside the camp.
It is also providing relief items and other belongings to refugees who have lost their possessions due to the floods.