The United Nations refugee agency said today it has begun the relocation of more than 50,000 South Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia 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,” Karin de Gruijl, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva.
“The first group of 377 refugees left in a convoy of 11 vehicles, including buses, ambulance, a luggage truck and security escort,” she added.
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. 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 kilometres 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.
UNHCR noted that finding 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,” said Ms. de Gruijl.
Some two 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 fled 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.