South Sudanese Refugees Seek Shelter in Leitchor, Ethiopia
The conflict that began in South Sudan in December 2013 has forced 1.5 million people to flee their homes in search of safety. Over 400,000 of these people have crossed the border, becoming refugees in neighboring countries. Not only are they starting their lives over, they are starting with few resources if any at all. In Ethiopia, there are over 160,000 South Sudanese refugees and over 47,000 live in the Leitchor refugee camp, in the country’s west.
Nyaguni and her three children fled their hometown of Nasir in January as the conflict moved towards them. Although close to the border, the journey to Leitchor took 20 days—ten days to reach the border and another ten to reach the camp. Many of her family members, including her husband, remained in Nasir; without any means of communication, Nyaguni has no information on how they’re doing. Now that she and her children are in Leitchor, their days are largely filled with waiting—waiting for daily food distributions, waiting for humanitarian worker visits, waiting for the rainy season to begin, and waiting for the fighting in South Sudan to end so they can hopefully reconnect with family.
Her neighbors, Nyayual and Nyabath, are also from Nasir. These two older men have been in Leitchor for two months, but due to the huge influx of refugees over the last few months, they have still not received a tent they can call home. They share a mud hut with a family in the flood zone of the camp. Although ominous clouds cover the camp most days, the rains are not yet daily—the threat of flooding is always present though. As the rainy season approaches, many refugees are being relocated yet again to a nearby camp less prone to flooding.
Although the Leitchor camp is nearly at full capacity, 200 to 500 people make their way into the camp and nearby camps daily. The journey ranges from days to weeks for South Sudanese families, but the challenges they face are similar—difficult terrain due to the rains, no shelter, extreme food insecurity, and the ever-present fear of finding yourself in a conflict zone. The journey is mentally and physically demanding, especially for children. Thokat, a young mother, watches as an Action Against Hunger outreach worker measures her son’s arm middle upper arm circumference, a common measurement used to determine nutrition levels in children. As soon as he is diagnosed, our team will prepare a course of treatment for the boy and work with Thokat to ensure the boy’s recovery.
Eight months pregnant, Thokat is also working with our staff to plan for giving birth in her tent. The challenges these families face can seem insurmountable, but our staff based in the camp are working tirelessly with partner organizations and individual families to help those that are now arriving and those who have been in the camp for months. Mothers like Nyaguni and Thokat hope to eventually return to South Sudan with their children, but for now we will help provide them with the safety, stability, and the services they need.