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UN agency starts relocation of South Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia

IANS 19 Nov 2014, 7:21:47 AM IST

United Nations: The UN refugee agency UNHCR has begun relocating nearly 15,000 South Sudanese refugees who had been stranded for months at a station in western Ethiopia after the refugee camp where they were due to live was flooded, a press release said on Tuesday.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that a first group of 125 refugees left Matar Way Station Monday and headed along the Baro river to the Itang Transit centre, where they spent the night before resuming their journey Tuesday by road toward Pugnido refugee camp, some 300 kms away, Xinhua quoted the UN agency as saying.

A further 29 refugees with special needs, including pregnant women, lactating mothers, the blind and older people, will be flown to the camp by helicopter, it said.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) had chartered two boats for the trip -- one for passengers and the other for luggage. The refugees were provided with water, high-energy biscuits, and relief items such as blankets as they boarded the boats wearing life jackets, UNHCR said.

The refugees had been stranded at Matar, which is close to the border with South Sudan, after heavy rains and floodwaters from the Baro river swamped the Nip Nip refugee camp, where they were originally destined to live. The floods also made access roads impassable.

More than 190,000 South Sudanese refugees have sought refuge in Ethiopia's Gambella region since conflict broke out in South Sudan in mid-December 2013, UNHCR said.

Ethiopia is currently Africa's largest refugee-hosting country, with more than 600,000 refugees.