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Ethiopia Shoulders Heavy Refugee Burden

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 23 2014 (IPS) - Ethiopia plays host to a refugee population higher than the entire population of Luxembourg, in large part due to the recent conflict in South Sudan.

On Wednesday, John Ging, Operations Director of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, spoke about his recent trip to Ethiopia, stressing the seriousness of South Sudan’s crisis and the sacrifice of the Ethiopian government and people.

“Ethiopia sets a global standard for its generosity and its humanity with regard to hosting so many refugees,” Ging told reporters. “There are now over 600,000 in total in Ethiopia in over 22 locations in the country.”

Already the destination of refugees from Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea, Ethiopia has faced an increased burden as 180,000 South Sudanese have poured across the border into its Gambella region since January.

With an original population of only 300,000, the Gambella region may soon be overwhelmed.

Ging highlighted the needs of both the South Sudanese refugees and their Ethiopian hosts.

“We shouldn’t just look at a response for the refugees. We must also look at a response for the host communities who themselves are impoverished,” he said.

“The influx of refugees compounds the challenges that they face themselves in terms of their own economic status and prospects.”

Ging praised the current response by the Ethiopian authorities and the U.N. Refugee Agency’s “very strong cadre of humanitarian staff,” but made clear that the refugees’ plight was not receiving enough attention.

“The appeal for the refugee component in this crisis is only 25 percent funded. That means that across the board the delivery of services does not meet what the refugees are entitled to,” he said.

In addition to the insufficient level of contributions, the timing of the funding has been causing headaches. Ging lamented that since the humanitarian appeals did not receive upfront funding, the U.N. could not distribute aid until the rainy season had begun, creating an expensive logistical nightmare.

The camps face substantial shortfalls in water, sanitation and food.

About 90 percent of Ethiopia’s refugee population consists of women and children. More than 30 percent of the children suffer from malnutrition.

“Food distribution is funded until September but if there is not new funding the food distribution will stop,” said Ging.

He called on the rest of the international community to shoulder its share of the burden.

Amid the bad news, Ethiopia’s willingness to welcome its neighbours still inspires, said Ging. It has recently given university scholarships to more than 1,700 Eritrean students.

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