Addis Ababa, Ethiopia — The UN refugee agency on Tuesday reported a sharp rise in the number of refugees fleeing South Sudan's conflict, after government forces captured the rebel stronghold of Nasir in the Greater Upper Nile region over the weekend.
"In the past 72 hours, over 11,000 people have crossed into the Ethiopian town of Burubiey, a small remote community on the shores of the Baro River which marks the border between the two countries," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said.
"The refugees tell us that more people are on their way, with many amassed on the South Sudanese side of the border waiting to cross the river on one of the few small ferry boats. The newly arrived refugees, all ethnic Nuers, report thousands more are fleeing Nasir [some 30 kilometres from the border]," he added.
The refugees are being registered on arrival and given basic medical and nutritional care plus relief items at a reception centre opened last week by UNHCR and Ethiopia's Administration for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA).
UNHCR and its partners, including ARRA and the Ethiopian Red Cross Society, are scaling up their responses to meet the surge in new arrivals - some of them in urgent need of medical help - and to ease the crowded conditions.
"Thousands of people are still waiting to be registered, and we are moving staff from the nearby Leitchuor refugee camp to Burubiey to help, while giving priority to people with urgent health and nutrition needs. We are also working on flying additional staff and relief items to the area," Edwards said.
Once registered, refugees are being moved to Kule refugee camp, which lies some 250 km to the east. This camp is fast approaching its capacity of 40,000 refugees, and a new camp is being established nearby to accommodate another 30,000 people.
UNHCR partner, the International Organization for Migration, is also increasing its capacity to transport people away from the border with South Sudan's Jonglei state to the established camps. Heavy rains are expected any time and this will make the relocation of refugees from Burubiey challenging.
The vast majority of new arrivals are still women and children (more than 70 per cent), although an increasing number of men are now also fleeing. More than 110,000 refugees have fled South Sudan to Ethiopia since the outbreak of violence last December. So far, around 102,000 have gone through initial registration. They are staying in four camps in western Ethiopia's Gambella state, run by UNHCR and ARRA.
Another 205,000 refugees have fled to Uganda (102,698), Sudan (67,401) and Kenya (34,770) while some 923,000 people are displaced inside South Sudan itself. Overall, more than 1.3 million are displaced from the current crisis.
Meanwhile, an inter-agency appeal for the South Sudanese refugee crisis remains dramatically underfunded, with only 14 per cent of the requested US$370 million received.