Ethiopia overtakes Kenya as Africa's biggest refugee-hosting country

News Stories, 19 August 2014

© UNHCR/P.Wiggers
South Sudanese refugees sit in the shade of a tree. They are living in makeshift shelters as they wait for UNHCR tents. Ethiopia hosts more than 600,000 refugees.

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, August 19 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency announced on Tuesday that Ethiopia has overtaken Kenya to become the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa, sheltering 629,718 refugees as of the end of July. Kenya, in comparison, is host to 575,334 registered refugees and asylum-seekers.

The main factor in the increased numbers is the conflict in South Sudan, which erupted in mid-December last year and has sent 188,000 refugees into Ethiopia since the beginning of 2014. There are at present 247,000 South Sudanese refugees in the country, making them the largest refugee population.

They are followed by Somalis (245,000) and Eritreans (99,000). Over the last seven months, nearly 15,000 Eritreans and more than 3,000 Somalis also arrived in Ethiopia.

"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," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva.

Three of the camps and three transit sites are new having been opened since the beginning of the year to handle the growing number of refugees fleeing the fighting in South Sudan. All three camps are at capacity and UNHCR is developing two more. While refugees wait to be moved to the new camps, more than 18,000 are sheltered in three temporary sites in Pagak, Pamdong and Matar in the western region of Gambella.

However, in recent weeks heavy rain has flooded these three low-lying sites, as well as Leitchuor Camp, where the situation is most serious. Some 10,000 refugees more than a fifth of Leitchuor's population of 47,600 have been hit by flooding.

Many tents and shelters are under water and latrines have collapsed. This is a serious health concern and threatens to undermine gains made in preventing the outbreak of water-borne diseases. Refugees have pitched tents on higher camp roads.

UNHCR's Edwards said that with the rainy season set to last until October, "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 three kilometres from Leitchuor. It will be able to accommodate 20,000 refugees."

In the meantime, the refugee agency is moving affected refugees from the roadside to drier spots of the camp and sending relief items to the area to be distributed to refugees who have lost their meagre belongings in the floods.

Most of the Gambella region is at a low elevation and flood-prone. UNHCR continues to work with the government at the federal and regional level to identify additional sites that are less susceptible to flooding.

South Sudan's crisis has caused massive displacement internally and into neighbouring countries. As of mid-August, 1.861 million South Sudanese had been forcibly displaced, of whom almost 1.3 million are internally displaced and more than 575,000 were refugees in neighbouring countries. South Sudan is also continuing to host some 243,000 refugees, the majority from Sudan.

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The number of refugees of concern to UNHCR stood at 10.4 million at the beginning of 2013, down slightly from a year earlier.

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New refugees from Central African Republic struggle with ration cuts in southern Chad

Since January 2014, a funding shortfall has forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut food rations by 60 per cent in refugee camps in southern Chad. The reduction comes as thousands of refugees from Central African Republic (CAR) continue to arrive in the south - more than 14,000 of them since the beginning of 2014. Many arrive sick, malnourished and exhausted after walking for months in the bush with little food or water. They join some 90,000 other CAR refugees already in the south - some of them for years.

The earlier refugees have been able to gain some degree of self-reliance through agriculture or employment, thus making up for some of the food cuts. But the new arrivals, fleeing the latest round of violence in their homeland, are facing a much harsher reality. And many of them - particularly children - will struggle to survive because WFP has also been forced cut the supplemental feeding programmes used to treat people trying to recover from malnutrition.

WFP needs to raise US$ 186 million to maintain feeding programmes for refugees in Africa through the end of the year. Additionally, UNHCR is urgently seeking contributions towards the US$ 78 million it has budgeted this year for food security and nutrition programmes serving refugees in Africa.

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The journey to Jordan is perilous. Refugees cross the Syrian-Jordan border at night in temperatures that now hover close to freezing. Mothers try to keep their children quiet during the journey. It is a harrowing experience and not everyone makes it across.

In Za'atari, refugees are allocated a tent and given sleeping mats, blankets and food on arrival. But as winter approaches, UNHCR is working with partners to ensure that all refugees will be protected from the elements. This includes upgrading tents and moving the most vulnerable to prefabricated homes, now being installed.

Through the Norwegian Refugee Council, UNHCR has also distributed thousands of winter kits that include thermal liners, insulated ground pads and metal sheeting to build sheltered kitchen areas outside tents. Warmer clothes and more blankets will also be distributed where needed.

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Large numbers have crossed into Lebanon to escape the violence in Syria. By the end of August, more than 53,000 Syrians across Lebanon had registered or received appointments to be registered. UNHCR's operations for Syrian refugees in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley resumed on August 28 after being briefly suspended due to insecurity.

Many of the refugees are staying with host families in some of the poorest areas of Lebanon or in public buildings, including schools. This is a concern as the school year starts soon. UNHCR is urgently looking for alternative shelter. The majority of the people looking for safety in Lebanon are from Homs, Aleppo and Daraa and more than half are aged under 18. As the conflict in Syria continues, the situation of the displaced Syrians in Lebanon remains precarious.

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