South Sudan situation

woman carrying firewood
Angelina Peter, a mother of eight and an IDP living in Malakal walks home with a bunch of firewood. Incidents of floods in Fangaka are increasing in frequency and severity, with the last three years recording the worst floods in living memory history. Residents of Fangak continue to face serious challenges including inadequate food supply.   © UNHCR/Samuel Otieno

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Global Appeal 2023

2023 population planning figures 

  • Refugees and asylum-seekers: 2.19 million 

  • IDPs: 2.27 million 

  • Refugee returnees*: 661,000  

  • Stateless persons: 16,000 

 *Cumulative refugee returnees. It is possible that some of these recorded returns will represent pendular movements. 


2023 situation overview 

The South Sudanese refugee population, more than 65% of whom are children, remains extremely vulnerable. This protracted situation is the largest refugee situation on the African continent. Over 2.3 million refugees hosted in neighbouring countries live in often precarious conditions, exacerbated by various factors such as the extreme drought and food insecurity situation in the region and the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 90,000 South Sudanese have fled to neighbouring countries since the beginning of 2022, while 87,000 returns have been recorded.  

After nearly a decade of conflict and despite efforts toward implementing the peace agreement, South Sudan continues to grapple with sporadic violence, chronic food insecurity and devastating flooding, often affecting achievements on the humanitarian front.  

The UNHCR non-return advisory advises States against the forced return of refugees to South Sudan, and UNHCR does not facilitate return, however, over 600,000 have chosen to return on their own accord since 2017 to areas that are often unable to provide basic services. UNHCR will implement the “Pockets of hope” initiative to help returning refugees have a successful fresh start. 

In 2023, UNHCR will continue to provide support to host countries to uphold the quality of asylum for South Sudanese refugees in the region, with keen attention provided to women and children, who make up the majority of refugees. Life-saving support will include preventing and responding to gender-based violence as well as contributing to gender-based violence risk mitigation across the response. Legal and physical protection will be strengthened and biometric registration, documentation, and data management in collaboration with host governments will be enhanced. The social cohesion between refugees and host communities will also be promoted, as well as working with asylum countries to achieve comprehensive and sustainable solutions. UNHCR will also maintain readiness for any possible displacement linked to the scheduled general election in 2024.  

The South Sudan Regional Refugee Response Plan includes 105 operational partners and will cater to the needs of nearly 2.16 million South Sudanese refugees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda in 2023. 

Global Report 2021

2021 Year-end population figures

  • Refugees: 2.34 million
  • IDPs: 2.02 million
  • Returns: 630,000 self-organized refugee returns since November 2017

2021 Situation Overview

After nearly a decade of conflict and despite efforts toward implementing the peace agreement, South Sudan continued to grapple with sporadic violence, chronic food insecurity and the devastating impact of major flooding in 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic has also strained people’s resources, significantly reducing their ability to sustainably meet their needs.

The South Sudan situation continued to be the largest refugee crisis in Africa, and one of the most underfunded, with the Regional Refugee Response Plan only 17% funded. Despite some progress, peace remained fragile and humanitarian challenges, including acute food insecurity, persisted. While UNHCR did not promote or facilitate returns, over 630,000 South Sudanese have spontaneously returned since 2017, although some of the returns may have been pendular. In response to the growing number of self-organized returns, UNHCR developed a solutions-oriented, area-based approach targeting high return areas through investments in medium to long-term development and peace interventions, called “Pockets of hope,” which will be piloted in 2022. Intention-to-return surveys for South Sudanese refugees in Sudan and Uganda were carried out in 2021 to inform planning and will be carried out in Ethiopia in 2022.

Governments in the five countries of asylum were supported in their efforts to integrate South Sudanese refugees in national systems for social service delivery. Refugees and local communities received help to boost their resilience by identifying and diversifying opportunities to earn a living. This was vital against a backdrop of chronic underfunding for food provision, which continued to result in regular food ration cuts.

The South Sudan situation remained a children’s crisis, with two out of three South Sudanese refugees under the age of 18. Funding was required for child protection services including to ensure proper birth registration and family reunification. Many children who were affected by school closures during the pandemic in the region needed additional support to continue with learning, including additional radio programmes which were made available for primary and secondary learners as a major remote learning modality. To assist learners who did not have access to radios, UNHCR distributed solar-charging radios to households with school-aged children to support their continuity of learning as well as self-study materials and textbooks.