The largest refugee population in Ethiopia is comprised of South Sudanese totalling 422,240 persons by the end of 2018. Ethiopia recognizes Refugees from aSouth Sudan are recognized prima facie, Ethiopia maintains an open border policy for persons fleeing persecution or armed conflict, having hosted successive waves of arrivals, and assisted subsequent voluntary repatriations, of South Sudanese over recent decades. Ongoing violence in Upper Nile, Jonglei and Unity States that has increasingly impacted border areas, resulted in 17,554 new arrivals seeking asylum in 2018. The majority were accommodated through the expansion of Nguenyyiel Camp in the Gambella Region.
While noting with cautious optimism the signing of a revitalized peace agreement in September 2018 by the South Sudanese factions, and continuing to assess the enabling environment for safe and voluntary return, the Gambella Region in Western Ethiopia has continued to receive new arrivals. Despite ongoing informal cross-border movements, including traditional movements in tribal areas that traverse the border, the refugee population is expected to remain stable. Although a modest number of new arrivals have been relocated to the Benishangul-Gumuz Region to ease the pressure on Gambella, the trend of new arrivals traveling with livestock, together with a prevailing security environment that has restricted the onward relocation of persons of concern indicates that the Region will continue to host the majority of additional new arrivals.
There are a total of 35,000 unaccompanied and separated children from South Sudan in the Gambella Region. On average, this demographic constitutes 21 per cent of new arrivals. Many having experienced traumatic events leading to their initial displacement or during their subsequent flight, including the death of parents or forced recruitment by armed actors. As a consequence, child protection remained a high priority in the delivery of essential services; which included support for care-arrangements, psycho-social care at child friendly spaces, and if deemed necessary individual case management to determine the need for additional specialized care.
The security situation in the region remains unpredictable; with security incidents affecting refugees, host communities and humanitarian workers.. New arrivals are mostly of Nuer ethnicity, 91 percent based on current registration profiling, while the majority of Ethiopians in the Gambella Region are drawn from both Nuer and Anuak populations. As a consequence, identifying land and the expansion of camps within areas inhabited by Ethiopian Nuer is essential, as well as the promotion of community security, social cohesion and peaceful coexistence between refugees and host communities by enhancing access to justice for both communities. The natural environment in the area is fragile and access to alternative energy for cooking and light is minimal, resulting in refugees having to collect firewood.