Ethiopia has overtaken Kenya to become Africa’s largest refugee-hosting country after hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese arrived in the country this year. The total refugee population has reached almost 630,000, raising concerns that its capacity to help displaced people may be overstretched.
East Africa’s refugee infrastructure has been heavily strained by fighting in South Sudan, which has driven nearly half a million people into camps around the region , with most settling in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Sudan, according to the UNHCR. Up to 1 million South Sudanese could be displaced in neighbouring countries by the end of this year, it said.
Ethiopia is poised to bear the brunt of South Sudan’s refugee crisis, said Kisut Gebreegziabher, public information officer at UNHCR’s Ethiopia office, which expects 300,000 South Sudanese to flee to Ethiopia by the end of the year. “Resources have always been scarce but the continuing influx of refugees from South Sudan in particular is putting further strains [on our operations],” Kisut said.
Eritrea’s escalating refugee crisis has resulted in almost 100,000 people seeking refuge in Ethiopia. Both crises are straining Ethiopia’s ability to support refugee populations.
“The number of Eritrean refugees coming into Ethiopia has shown a steady increase over the last several years – from an average of as low as 250 to 300 a month in 2009 to an average of 2,000 a month in 2014,” Gebreegziabher said. “They say they are fleeing persecution at home, including gross human rights violations and forced and open-ended military conscription.”
Torrential rain expected to last until October has caused flooding in some of Ethiopia’s camps. “With the rainy season, malaria cases are increasing,” said a spokeswoman from Médecins sans Frontières (MSF). “Because of the cholera epidemics in South Sudan, MSF is planning a vaccination campaign in the Gambela area for a target population of 187,000, to include both refugees and the host community.”
Refugees from Afghanistan and Syria comprise the majority of the world’s displaced populations: Pakistan hosts the most displaced people, followed by Iran, Lebanon and Jordan, according to the UNHCR (pdf).