Following the roll-out of Level 3 registration, the total refugee population in Ethiopia as of June 2019 stands at 628,585, the largest refugee population being the South Sudanese totaling 297,918 individuals. Refugees from South Sudan are recognized on a prima facie basis and Ethiopia maintains an open border policy for persons fleeing persecution or armed conflict, having hosted successive waves of arrivals, and assisted subsequent voluntary repatriation, of South Sudanese over recent decades. Ongoing violence in border areas has resulted in approximately 4,913 new arrivals during the first half of 2019.
While noting with cautious optimism the signing of a revitalized peace agreement in September 2018 and continuing to assess the enabling environment for safe and voluntary returns, the Gambella region in Western Ethiopia continues to receive new arrivals in its Pugnido reception centre. All new arrivals are then relocated to the Benishangul-Gumuz region to ease the pressure on the Gambella region. The decision to stop onward transmission of new arrivals to Gambella region came following an increasing trend of inter-clan and ethnic conflict, which has impacted the overall security in the region and land allocated to the refugee camps competing with the social/economic and the overall development of the region.
There are a total of 24,616 unaccompanied and separated children from South Sudan in the Gambella region, many having experienced traumatic events leading to their initial displacement or during their subsequent flight.
Therefore, child protection remained a high priority in the delivery of essential services: strengthening identification and referral of children, who face protection risks, providing specialized services such as psychosocial support, which included support for care arrangements, wellbeing and empowerment of adolescents and youth, as well as raising awareness in the community on their key role in child protection prevention and response.
The security situation in the region remained unpredictable with security incidents affecting refugees, host communities and humanitarian workers. New arrivals were mostly of Nuer ethnicity representing 90.4 per cent of refugees, while the majority of Ethiopians in the Gambella region are drawn from both Nuer and Agnuak populations. Consequently, 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 lighting is minimal, resulting in refugees having to collect firewood.