With the rainy season coming, South Sudan's peace talks at a standstill and more refugees expected to cross into Ethiopia, the U.N. refugee agency will relocate 50,000 South Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia’s Gambella region, currently stuck in flooded camps, to new areas. The relocation is due to take place next week.
UNHCR deputy-representative in Ethiopia Bornwell Kantande says moving newly arrived refugees is much easier than moving those who have already lived in Ethiopia for one year.
“Because during that year they have accommodated their assets. So in terms of capacity of transportation, you need more resources. When they just newly arrived, they have very little that they bring with them so it’s much easier to transport. But this time around we need a combination of buses and trucks so that whatever assets that they have, they bring with them to the new site," says Katande.
Other challenges include providing services such as latrines, education, and nutrition programs.
Almost 200,000 refugees have fled to Ethiopia’s Gambella region since the conflict between forces loyal to South Sudan President Salva Kiir and those of his former deputy Riek Machar started in December 2013.
But heavy rains and the flooding Baro River created an emergency situation at the camps of Leitchuor and Nipnip. The new camp, Jewi, is about 18 kilometers outside Gambella city.
The conflict in South Sudan has killed more than 10,000 people and made four million civilians dependent on food assistance. Peace talks broke down earlier this month.
Kantande is concerned about the stalled peace process.
“We see the situation and the reports that we hear from South Sudan and [according to] those reports we could be receiving more people, some of whom may not have harvested their crops, so they might be coming because there is a hunger. But also because [of] the fact that the war has [been going on] for a long period.”
UNHCR says that up to 110,000 more people could come to Gambella to seek refuge, as the next rainy season starts in May.
Ethiopia is hosting more refugees than any other African country but Katande says there is no space for so many new arrivals.
“If that happens, we do not have space to put them. A space which is safe from flooding, a space which is conducive for livelihoods for refugees. We have been working with the government and we are very, very clear about the new site, which has a capacity of 50,000, that if we transfer all refugees who are in Leitchuor and Nipnip, we do not have space for the new arrivals,” says Katande.
According to the UNHCR, there are another two million people displaced inside South Sudan.