Nguenyyiel refugee camp, Ethiopia.

Searching for solutions as more South Sudanese refugees arrive every day

South Sudan faces a humanitarian disaster fuelled by three and a half years of civil war. In February 2017, famine was declared in one part of the country, with 5 million people facing extreme food insecurity. More than 1 million South Sudanese have been forced to flee to neighbouring countries such as Ethiopia, in search of protection and vital support.


Today, Western Ethiopia hosts 378,285 South Sudanese refugees in 9 refugee camps. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, visited one of them, Nguenyyiel refugee camp, to commemorate World Refugee Day on June 20th. The visit calls attention to the humanitarian impact of South Sudan’s civil war on its neighbours. One out of ten refugees have arrived since January and new refugees arrive everyday. In December 2016, UNHCR forecasted up to 125,000 new South Sudanese refugees arriving to Ethiopia in 2017 – new estimates indicate that the number may be as high as 160,000.

“Ethiopia not only hosts Africa’s second largest refugee population but also battles the impact of the worst drought to hit the Horn of Africa in decades,” says James Curtis, Country Director for the Danish Refugee Council in Ethiopia. “The humanitarian community is under a lot of pressure to ensure that refugees arriving from South Sudan are able to quickly access food, drinking water, shelter and protection. But with multiple crises affecting the region at the same time, we struggle to cover all urgent needs – let alone long-term support.” According to UNHCR, only 10% of the funding required to provide essential services to the South Sudanese refugees had been received by the end of May.

The efforts to address the most urgent needs for the continued influx of new arrivals – who have sometimes travelled for days without support and become separated from their loved ones on the way – also risk deterring the humanitarian community from the search for durable solutions for the refugees: repatriation, resettlement or local integration.

“Without access to solutions – without access to education, employment and other services on par with hosting populations – refugees may not be able to use their full potential for contributing to the societies in which the live,” says James Curtis. “It is imperative that efforts to promote long term solutions for the South Sudanese refugees are not neglected, if they are to live peaceful, productive lives in Ethiopia – or in South Sudan.”  

In 2016, the Ethiopian government volunteered to be a pilot country under the global Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework initiative, integrating Ethiopia’s own pledges to achieve solutions for refugees. In the coming months, DRC will support the Regional Durable Solutions Secretariat, based in Nairobi, to conduct an assessment of access to solutions in Western Ethiopia, with the aim of supporting the Ethiopian government in the implementation of their pledges.

“The pledges made by the Ethiopian government in 2016 are a critical milestone in the efforts to ensure solutions for the more than 800,000 refugees in the country,” says James Curtis. “But with so many competing needs, the international community must also step up its efforts to support Ethiopia in this endeavour.”

The Danish Refugee Council (DRC) currently works in six refugee camps hosting South Sudanese refugees and provides critical protection and water and sanitation services to those crossing into Ethiopia at the Pagak border crossing. Since September 2016, DRC has provided emergency and transitional shelters to more than 7,000 South Sudanese families and has reached 18,000 refugees – primarily women, children and the elderly – with protection services, with the support of Danida, ECHO, BPRM and UNHCR.