The 2021 South Sudan Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRRP) outlines the multi-agency response strategy and financial requirements of 93 partners supporting host governments to provide protection and assistance across the five main asylum countries. The updated plan developed in accordance with the Refugee Coordination Model takes a comprehensive and solutions-oriented approach and includes the impact on host communities.
Given the need to move beyond emergency assistance to enhance the resilience and self-reliance for South Sudanese refugees and to support host communities to strengthen peaceful co-existence, the 2021 RRRP for the South Sudan situation envisages stronger engagement with development and peacebuilding partners.
Conditions have not yet been conducive to promoting or facilitating voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity to South Sudan due to ongoing pockets of armed conflict and human rights violations, despite the signature of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) by the warring parties in September 2018 and the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity in February 2020. However, many South Sudanese refugees have spontaneously returned to their country since 2017, although often to situations of internal displacement while new displacement continues at a high scale within the country and new refugee flows have been registered in all asylum countries in 2020.
The situation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of services such as civil documentation, food insecurity (which resulted directly from the destruction of infrastructures and crops), displacement of health and education professionals, limited humanitarian access, and most recently flooding leading to additional displacement. Moreover, the conflict has also deepened the gender inequalities and reinforced traditional gender roles which are known root causes of gender-based violence. Gross underreporting of GBV cases among South Sudanese women, girls, men and boys in refugee settings is a major concern.
The DRC, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda have developed refugee responses in line with the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) articulating prioritized multi-stakeholder responses. The launch of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)
Support Platform at the Global Refugee Forum in December 2019 coupled with the pledges made by and to benefit South Sudan and the five RRRP countries will contribute to an integrated protection and solutions strategy for South Sudanese refugees.
RRRP partners in all countries are working with host governments to promote the inclusion of refugees in national systems and ensure their access to basic services alongside host communities. However, there remain considerable challenges. The majority of South Sudanese refugees in the region are hosted in relatively remote, under-developed and economically underserved areas. Host communities find themselves often in a precarious socioeconomic situation, impacted by food insecurity and malnutrition, suffering from limited access to basic social services and economic infrastructure, as well as scarce livelihood opportunities. The presence of refugees could further exacerbate their situation by increasing competition over limited social services, livelihood opportunities, and natural resources. These development-related challenges need to be addressed to prevent tensions between refugees and host communities and negatively impact the protection and safety of refugees.
In 2021, the RRRP is expected to cater for some 2.3 million South Sudanese refugees in the five asylum countries. Whereas over 120,000 South Sudanese refugees returned to their country in 2020, many of the returnees ended up in IDP camps in South Sudan or secondary movements due to lack of basic services, inter-communal violence and armed conflict in parts of the country. As COVID restrictions start to ease and the situation in South Sudan remains volatile, the number of new refugee arrivals in all asylum countries is projected to match or outpace returns in 2021. Based on the current projections, the overall refugee population is expected to grow (new arrivals and population growth minus returns) by over 132,000 to an estimated 2,284,000 refugees at the end of 2021. It is therefore crucial to further enhance the protection of South Sudanese refugees in the DRC, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda, while at the same time reinforcing a solutions- oriented approach to resolve the protracted refugee situation.
The 2021 Regional Refugee Response Plan for the South Sudan situation seeks to provide a regionally coherent inter-agency response supported by host governments in the five countries of asylum:
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) hosts some 55,000 South Sudanese refugees. Despite border closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic some 650 new refugee arrivals were registered in 2020. The South Sudanese refugee population is staying in a remote part of the DRC and receives little international support or attention despite their heightened protection needs affecting in particular children, women and older persons. The camp-based population is underserved in terms of meeting minimum standards for basic assistance. In addition, some 62 per cent of the refugee population lives outside of camps with impoverished host communities along the border, facing significant security challenges, lack of services and food insecurity.
Ethiopia hosts almost 350,000 South Sudanese refugees as of 31 December 2020, making this the largest refugee population in the country. Despite the temporary closure of its land borders to prevent the spread of the pandemic, Ethiopia recorded approximately 500 new refugee arrivals from South Sudan in addition to refugees who had spontaneously returned to South Sudan and were subsequently forced to flee again to Ethiopia. In this regard, the management of reception centres, timely registration and the transportation of refugees to settlements remains a priority. The vast majority of the refugees were accommodated in the expanded Nguenyyiel Camp in the Gambella region, where the security situation remained volatile. Increased support to host and refugee communities in Ethiopia will be key to promote community security, social cohesion and peaceful coexistence.
In Kenya, most of the 124,000 refugees from South Sudan are hosted in Kakuma camp and Kalobyei settlement in Turkana county. Kenya recorded some 2,250 new arrivals from South Sudan in 2020. In Kakuma and Kalobeyei settlement, RRP partners and the Government are focusing on the inclusion of refugees in the socio-economic development plans together with under the Kalobeyei Integrated Socio-Economic Development Plan (KISEDP) in Turkana West. Gains made on self-reliance and resilience under the KISEDP should be continued as an example of the humanitariandevelopment nexus, that requires further investment.
The prevention, response and mitigation of the impacts of COVID-19 on the health, protection and socioeconomic well-being of refugees and host communities remains a key priority alongside the humanitarian response outlined in this RRRP.
Sudan is among the largest host countries of South Sudanese refugees, with over 735,000 refugees1 recorded across the country. The Government of Sudan estimates the number of South Sudanese refugees to be over 1.3 million. Despite closure of the borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Sudan has maintained an open border policy, allowing safe and unrestricted access to its territory for over 18,000 South Sudanese refugees who arrived in 2020 through more than 14 different border- crossing points. In the seventh year of the response in Sudan, there is a need to move beyond emergency assistance to focus on longer-term solutions, voluntary repatriation, status regularization, resilience and self-reliance for refugees living in camps and out-of- camp, as well as continued support for host communities.
Uganda is currently home to some 889,000 refugees from South Sudan, with over 6,400 new arrivals registered in 2020. Despite Uganda’s favourable protection environment, refugees are faced with numerous protection challenges due to the magnitude of forced displacement and growing vulnerabilities, compounded by diminishing resources and strained essential social services in refugee-hosting districts.
Recent food cuts and COVID-19 measures have posed additional challenges for refugees in terms of their livelihoods and food security. Application of the Global Compact on Refugees and the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework in Uganda place a strong focus on self-reliance of refugees and host communities and strengthening local service delivery for both.
The South Sudanese refugee situation remains the largest in Africa and third largest globally, which urgently calls for greater responsibility-sharing in a spirit of solidarity – a key principle underpinning the Global Compact on Refugees.