GENEVA, Switzerland, June 1, 2015/African Press Organization (APO)/ — Intense fighting between warring parties in South Sudan has forced hundreds of thousands civilians to flee, creating a new wave of displacement in a conflict that has already displaced more than two million people. Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors without Borders (MSF) and other international aid organisations has been forced to suspend relief operations in some war-affected areas of South Sudan, leaving civilians without lifesaving aid.
Seeking refuge and assistance, more than 6,000 people have arrived in the Gambella region in western Ethiopia, adding to the growing the number of South Sudanese refugees who have fled to the area since clashes first broke out in South Sudan in late 2013. According to UNHCR, there are now more than 200,000 South Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia. More are arriving each day.
Below we talk to Sylvain Perron, MSF’s head of mission in Ethiopia, to understand the humanitarian needs in Gambella:
What is the situation at the border between South Sudan and Ethiopia?
It’s been reported that more than 100,000 South Sudanese have recently been displaced in increasing violence over the past few weeks. The number of South Sudanese seeking refuge in Ethiopia is also rising.
According to UNHCR, more than 6,000 people have fled the violence and crossed into Ethiopia, especially in Pagak, one of the main entry points, since the beginning of the month. This number is far higher than in previous months. The figure includes unregistered people either living in the camps or people by the border who are seeking better protection and services to enter the new refugee camp opened by the Ethiopian Authorities and UNHCR.
Our teams on the ground are seeing many new refugees who are living in precarious conditions. The majority of them are suffering from malaria, diarrhoea and skin diseases contracted during their long, difficult journey from South Sudan.
Is there a cohesive humanitarian strategy regarding South Sudanese refugees?
In 2014, repeated influxes of refugees stretched the capacity of all actors present in Gambella Region. The rainy season then further complicated the provision of assistance. All actors have now resumed their presence and activities in Pagak.
In collaboration with the Ethiopian Administration for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA), the UNHCR conducted a relocation operation to ensure better protection and better humanitarian services. Since the beginning of May, more than 40,000 refugees have been relocated from the flood-prone Leitchuor and Nip-Nip Camps near the border with South Sudan, to the newly established Jewi camp, which is only 18 kilometres away from Gambella’s regional capital, Gambella town.
The relocation is a good thing for the refugees and humanitarian actors alike. The new site is far less susceptible to flooding, which will make it easier to cope with needs. But NGOs and others international partners are struggling with the pace of the relocation. An average of 3,500 individuals are being relocated every day and there are not enough latrines, for instance, or enough water, and UNHCR cannot set up family tents quickly enough.
What is MSF doing?
MSF has scaled up its activities and is providing consultations six days a week at Pagak entry point, along with emergency referrals to MSF’s health centre in Itang.
The teams have reduced activities in Leitchuor and have incrementally expanded health activities to Jewi in accordance with the ongoing relocation. MSF is running the main health centre in Jewi, providing medical consultations, emergency services and limited inpatient care. The team carried out more than 1,500 consultations since the beginning of the activities in Jewi mid-May. In the coming days, MSF will scale up capacity to 75 beds including a maternity service and outreach activities.
We are closely monitoring the situation and are ready to scale up further, if needed.