Ethiopia: Urgent Assistance Needed for South Sudanese Refugees

Francois Servranckx/MSF


ADDIS ABABA/PARIS/NEW YORK—Tens of thousands of refugees who have fled violence and deprivation in South Sudan and sought refuge in camps in Ethiopia’s Gambella region lack water, food, and sanitation and are suffering from emergency medical conditions, including highly infectious measles, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

An estimated 80,000 refugees who escaped violence, persecution, and food shortages in South Sudan's Jonglei, Upper Nile, and Unity states have arrived in Ethiopia over recent months. At least 1,000 refugees arrive in Ethiopia daily, and the total number could reach 140,000 in the coming weeks. Levels of humanitarian assistance in the camps are far from covering the needs. Many arriving refugees suffer from respiratory infections, diarrhea, and malaria, all linked to the difficult conditions during their exile from South Sudan and in the transit sites and camps. Children are especially at risk, with hundreds already under treatment for measles.

“We estimate that the mortality rate in children under five remains above emergency levels in Letchuor camp, due largely to high rates of malnutrition and measles,” said Antoine Foucher, MSF’s head of mission in Ethiopia. “While the provision of assistance has improved, it is hardly keeping up with the continued influx of refugees. The current response is running behind the needs, and it is critical to boost the response to improve health conditions ahead of the rainy season.”  

MSF, in coordination with the Ethiopian Administration for Refugees & Returnees Affairs (ARRA), has raced to provide medical assistance to the vulnerable refugees who have walked up to three weeks to reach Ethiopia. The organization has set up mobile clinics at the border in Tiergol and Pagak; outpatient services and a 65-bed inpatient facility in Letchuor, a camp with 40,000 people; and a 75-bed inpatient facility in Itang, close to Kule camp.

MSF teams have so far conducted 8,633 medical consultations, admitted 160 patients, and provided intensive nutrition care to 130 children. High numbers of children are suffering from measles, despite the administration of vaccinations at the border. MSF teams have treated more than 500 children with measles, including 47 who required intensive care and hospitalization. MSF is also providing latrines and is treating water in the Pagak and Kule camps.

Aid must be significantly increased before the onset of the rainy season, which will only worsen the already dire living conditions, MSF said.

MSF has worked in Ethiopia since 1984, and currently runs projects in Amhara, Benishangul, Gambella, Oromia, SNNPR, and the Somali region. 

A woman from South Sudan and her child in the registration area of MSF hospital in Luetchor refugee camp.
Francois Servranckx/MSF