East African nations are expecting South Sudan's refugee numbers to rise drastically in the coming year as more people flee violence and a deepening humanitarian crisis in the country. Kenya's top diplomat also says her country will keep pressure on South Sudan's political leaders to agree on a peace deal.
Humanitarian agencies say the number of South Sudanese seeking refuge in neighboring countries could rise to 821,000 people next year if a lasting peace is not achieved soon.
The expected upsurge would add to more than 500,000 South Sudanese refugees already living in Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda.
United Nations agencies and NGOs working on the crisis launched an appeal Wednesday for more than $800 million to fund the refugee response in the host countries.
The crisis in South Sudan began a year ago when a political dispute between the president and his deputy spiraled into an inter-ethnic conflict that has divided factions of the ruling party against one another.
Negotiators from the warring sides are scheduled to meet in Addis Ababa this week to continue to work on a peace deal. The process has been uninspiring, as at least four past cease-fire agreements have all been violated.
Kenya's Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs Amina Mohamed, speaking to reporters after the launch of the refugee response plan in Nairobi, said Kenya continued to have faith in the process.
“At the political level, we are doing everything we can. And I can tell you that we've made a lot of progress, but we're not there yet. We've made progress on all the issues, except the issues that relate to security and the governance structure,” said Mohamed.
Kenya is part of the IGAD group of nations mediating the talks. The group has threatened sanctions against South Sudan leaders from both sides of the conflict if they cannot abide by a lasting cease-fire deal.
Meantime, Kenya is also considering a new security bill that would, among other things, cap the number of refugees allowed in Kenya at 150,000.
Mohamed said she did not think the bill would have any effect on refugees in the country or the appeal for funding.
“The bill is not yet through, it's just gone through its first reading in parliament. It’s still under active consideration and discussion. I don't think it has any bearing at all on the request that we've made to the international community today to support the refugees that are already in Kenya,” she said.
Kenya currently hosts more than 500,000 refugees, most of them from neighboring Somalia.