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June 19, 2014

Rainy Season Worsening Situation for South Sudan Refugees

by Marthe van der Wolf

South Sudan refugees have been crossing Ethiopia’s border in large numbers since the start of the conflict in December.  The International Organization for Migration is concerned about the rainy season and its impact on the refugees.

About 1,500 South Sudan refugees come into Ethiopia everyday, fleeing the violent conflict that has continued for six months.  

The International Organization for Migration is assist the refugees from the border to the camps.  An IOM spokesman, Alemayehu Seifeselassie says because of the start of the rainy season, transporting the refugees is becoming more challenging.

“The rainy season is coming and it is difficult because it affects the transport, it affects the road movement and its difficult because there is a large influx coming in every day and moving them requires constant effort and we have over 40 buses that we are working with," said Alemayehu. "And particularly on the roadside its get to be difficult.”

Fighting broke out in December in South Sudan after a political rift between President Salva Kirr and his former vice president Riek Machar.  More than 1.5 million people have been displaced within the country, but many also fled to neighboring countries Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia.

More than 147,000 South Sudanese are in Ethiopia’s southwestern province of Gambella.  Once refugees cross the border, they are registered by UNHCR and transported by IOM to the refugee camps.

The camps are another one-day drive or 10-hour boat trip away.

The rising water level is not affecting transporting refugees by boat, but the rain is affecting road transportation.  Alemayehu says the rain will continue for the next months.
 
“So as the water level is rising, as the roads are being in need of repair, that will create a bit of difficulty to transporting the refugees to the camps," said Alemayehu. "The road was not good and it was under maintenance.  So as the road was under construction we had to use the boats.  So that was a bit challenging, the rain has made the transportation a bit difficult.”
 
There are four refugee camps in Gambella.  Two have been built high enough and will not be affected by the rainy season.  The other two camps might be affected.

The number of South Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia is expected to increase to 350,000 by the end of the year.