Ploumen calls on donors: Don’t abandon South Sudan’s refugees

Foreign trade and development cooperation minister Lilianne Ploumen is calling urgently on UNHCR and WFP donor countries to avert the tragedy threatening South Sudanese refugees. The civil war in South Sudan has caused a mass influx of over 340,000 refugees into neighbouring Uganda. In the past two months alone 110,000 arrived. Around 1,800 refugees continue to cross the border each day. ‘The funds necessary to provide basic aid for these people are almost exhausted,’ Ms Ploumen warned. ‘If nothing is done and no extra financial support is given, the risk of food shortages would be huge and the consequences disastrous,’ said the minister, who will address this refugee crisis tomorrow at a meeting with her EU colleagues in Brussels.

The World Food Programme (WFP) now expects the number of refugees from South Sudan to rise to over 550,000 by the end of this year. Previous estimates put their number at around 430,000. As a result the WFP requires an extra USD 45 million, but less than half that amount has been donated so far. ‘It would be unacceptable if we see this coming and yet still let these people go without adequate food or shelter, or leave them exposed to outbreaks of life-threatening diseases,’ Ms Ploumen said.

The Netherlands is a major donor to both the WFP and the UN refugee agency UNHCR. This year the Netherlands is the third-largest donor of unearmarked funds, with a contribution of USD 45 million. It is also the second-largest donor to the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), giving USD 59 million. Several large, rich countries are notably absent on both organisations’ top-ten lists of donors. ‘That is why I’m calling on those countries in particular to increase their contribution. They cannot stay on the sidelines in the face of a real humanitarian crisis,’ said Ms Ploumen.

Due to the present lack of funding the WFP has been forced to halve support for refugees who reached Uganda before 1 July 2015. The reception centres at the border where refugees are received, registered and vaccinated are overcrowded. The Ugandan health services only just managed to nip an outbreak of cholera in the bud. According to the government in Kampala, the large-scale influx of refugees has stretched the capacity of the two existing camps in Adjumani and Kiryandongo to breaking point. As a result, the pressure on available agricultural land is mounting. Elsewhere in northwestern Uganda a new camp, Bidibidi, has been set up, and 4,000 refugees are now being transferred there each day. The site is problematic because the area lacks proper infrastructure and the rainy season has just begun.

The influx of South Sudanese refugees comes in addition to the large number of refugees from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo who are already in Uganda. The country currently provides shelter to over 650,000 refugees. Ms Ploumen praised the Ugandan government for the way their country has received refugees from the region, and said she was aware of the heavy and long-term burden this places on the authorities and host communities.