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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Seeking shelter

Refugees flock to a Lutheran-run camp in Ethiopia

Panum, 13, and her big sister Nyamoun (last names withheld) fled the violence in South Sudan and found a temporary home at Lietchor, a Lutheran World Federation-run camp in Ethiopia’s western region of Gambella.

“Our father got killed in the war and our mother is in Juba,” Panum said. “We have had no communication with her for several weeks. … She does not know that we are here in safety. We really don’t know when we will see her again.” 

In another section of the camp, Marie nurses an infant, the youngest of five. Marie was eight months pregnant when she and three of her children fled the violence in South Sudan. Her husband and eldest son decided to stay behind. 

“Food is sparse and not enough for all of us,” she said. “It is difficult to get by, but we are glad to be alive.” 

Panum, Nyamoun, and Marie and her children continue to receive water, sanitation, health and other services at Lietchor. But with famine looming and the slow trickle of aid, the growing number of refugees poses a significant challenge. 

Violence and food shortages in South Sudan have displaced more than 1 million people, including 300,000 who have fled to neighboring countries. Lietchor camp was built to hold about 20,000 people, but by mid-April its staff and resources were struggling to keep up with the needs of more than 38,000 refugees. 

“With up to 1,000 new arrivals per day, the relocation [to different settlements] and camp absorption capacities are severely overstretched,” said Sophie Gebreyes, staff of the LWF Department for World Service program in Ethiopia.

More than 95,000 South Sudanese had fled into Ethiopia as of April 15, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. More than 90 percent of them are women and children.

Entering Ethiopia through Matar, Pagak and Akobo, most of the women and children walk for weeks then swim across a river that separates the countries.


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