The South Sudanese (SSD) are the largest refugee population in Ethiopia, totalling 344,481 as of June 2020. Of these, 319,130 reside in seven camps in the Gambella Regional State. Most of the South Sudanese refugees arriving in Gambella are to be relocated to the Benishangul-Gumuz Region based on a Government policy issued in January 2019 requiring such transfers. Between 31 August 2019 and 30 March 2020, a total of 7,000 individuals were in the Pamdong Transit Center, 718 of whom were relocated to Assosa. On 30 March, the Government directed the closure of Pamdong Transit Centre, and 2,190 individuals were relocated to the Nguenyyiel refugee camp. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pagak Reception Centre was re-opened in May, and is now hosting more than 8,000 South Sudanese refugees. There is limited accommodation, and services are overstretched for the increasing number of new asylum-seekers, raising public health concerns. Substantial re-investments have been made to ensure the delivery of assistance in Pagak, including the rehabilitation of shelters (and other infrastructure), provision of water and sanitation, health, nutrition and other protection and social services.
In March, Ethiopia closed its land borders in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, new arrivals continued to enter Ethiopia through informal crossings, often fleeing ethnic conflict and food insecurity in parts of South Sudan. On 16 April, the Gambella Regional Health Bureau (RHB) released the third version of the COVID-19 Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan (ERRP) aligned with WHO and Ethiopia Government guidelines.
RRRP partner resources were re-prioritised to cover critical preparedness activities, including the provision of COVID-19 related training for health care workers, awareness raising campaigns, and distribution of medical equipment and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for frontline workers. Nevertheless, COVID-19 has adversely impacted the humanitarian response to the South Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia. RRRP partners have sought alternative implementation modalities in various sectors to sustain humanitarian assistance. In an endeavour to curb the spread of COVID-19, response assistance in critical areas such as protection, health promotion, Core Relief Items (CRI), WASH and shelter were scaled up. Increased gaps are foreseen in the second half of the year, and initiatives are constantly being explored to secure additional funding and resources, in order to sustain the delivery of life-saving assistance and to support the implementation of activities that were suspended.