South Sudan


Operation: Opération: South Sudan



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Key Figures

2020 year-end results
501,980 patient consultations were conducted across all refugee camps in South Sudan
43,000 refugees and asylum-seekers targeted by livelihoods interventions
16,960 IDPs received emergency shelters
100% of women and girls of reproductive age received sanitary materials which include sanitary cloths, sanitary pads and soaps
96% persons of concerns have access to legal assistance 
2021 planning figures
860,000 refugees, asylum-seekers, spontaneous refugee returnees, IDPs and persons at risk of statelessness will receive protection and assistance
320,000 of refugees will have access to primary health-care services
300,000 IDPs will have access to protection services and core relief items
65,000 refugee households will receive core relief items
175 peaceful co-existence projects will benefit returnee and host communities
90% of refugee children will be enrolled in primary education

People of Concern Personnes relevant de la compétence du HCR

Increase in
2020 2,474,933
2019 2,354,090
2018 2,318,691


[["Refugees",314453],["Asylum-seekers",3763],["IDPs",1600254],["Returned IDPs",174463],["Returned refugees",122000],["Stateless",10000],["Others of concern",250000]]
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South Sudan

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2020 {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"budget":[275.66821274,171.67261918,155.2873228,152.18334368,197.10809986999996,224.397427],"expenditure":[126.30817887,131.89496719,111.17078986,114.67014541999998,117.67796272,null]} {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"p1":[167.85975155,130.87408023999998,120.07758228,107.75283929000001,127.77816672,147.03905812],"p2":[4.795793519999999,1.49549201,1.505682,1.1569643500000002,1.76180126,3.95868],"p3":[null,null,null,12,35.486791350000004,37.71574139],"p4":[103.01266767,39.30304693,33.704058520000004,31.27354004,32.08134054,35.68394749]} {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"p1":[87.87085463,105.18668788,85.12592905,89.26689522,86.02153328,null],"p2":[2.5470618700000003,0.83805353,1.00689489,0.5317120200000001,1.09980777,null],"p3":[null,null,null,2.56379952,2.2431376899999997,null],"p4":[35.890262369999995,25.870225780000002,25.03796592,22.307738660000002,28.31348398,null]}
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  • 2014
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  • 2019
  • 2020
  • 2021

Operational context

The operational and political environment in South Sudan remained complex and unpredictable in 2020. Characterized as a protection crisis, communities in South Sudan experienced multiple challenges including intensified conflict and sub-national violence, a second consecutive year of major flooding, and the impacts of COVID-19.

South Sudan maintained an open-door policy for refugees and asylum-seekers despite the COVID-19 pandemic and associated border closures in late March 2020.

While the implementation of the revitalized agreement on the resolution of the conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) continued to be slow, a general sense of stability at the national level cautiously revived hopes of lasting peace, a necessity for durable solutions to displacement, including return and local integration. UNHCR continued to underscore the international protection needs of persons fleeing South Sudan and urged States to refrain from forcibly returning persons to the country in line with the 2019 advisory. Ongoing inter- and intra-communal conflict continued to affect the protection environment and, while some self-organized returns continued to occur, prevented large-scale solutions for the 1.6 million people who are internally displaced as well as 2.2 million refugees in neighbouring countries. 

Effects of the 2019 floods continued to affect living conditions of some 150,000 refugees and host community members in Upper Nile as well as an additional 650,000 IDPs affected by seasonal rains in 2020.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic also necessitated an immediate scale-up of health-related activities including awareness raising on prevention, construction of isolation centres, and rehabilitation of public health clinics and hospitals. The pandemic further exacerbated the already struggling education system in South Sudan, resulting in drastic changes in education service delivery. The indefinite closure of schools and all learning institutions across the country in late March exposed refugees and host community students to a myriad of protection risks.

Population trends

As of December 2020, South Sudan hosted close to 315,000 refugees and 3,763 asylum-seekers. Women and children represented 82% of the population. The Sudanese refugee population remained the largest at 291,249 individuals (93%); followed by nationals of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, accounting for 16,498 individuals (5%), Ethiopia 4,194 individuals (1%), Central African Republic 2,135 individuals (1%), and 367 individuals from other nationalities. Some 91% of refugees were hosted in Upper Nile and Unity states in the north of South Sudan.

Newborns as well as new arrivals led to an increase of some 10,000 registered individuals during the year, with 2,732 new arrivals. Prospects for voluntary repatriation and resettlement remained extremely limited.

Despite UNHCR not promoting or facilitating return to South Sudan, in 2020, close to 122,000 refugees returned to South Sudan mainly from neighbouring Sudan and Uganda, around 22,000 more than in 2019, bringing the total number of returnees to 357,000 since November 2017. Pendular movements, in particular in border locations with Uganda, also continued to be recorded.   

Across the country, an estimated 1.6 million people were internally displaced, marking a slight decrease from 2019. A spike in sub-national violence and floods triggered new displacements in 2020. Small numbers of displaced people continued to be accommodated in the UNMISS Protection of Civilians (PoC) sites, which are in the process of transitioning to conventional IDP sites under the jurisdiction of the government. By the end of 2020, the sites in Bor, Juba and Wau were transitioned, with Bentiu and Malakal PoC sites planned to transition in 2021.

Key achievements

  • UNHCR prioritized the strengthening of community-based response capacity to identify and refer sexual and gender-based violence and child protection cases through training and capacity building, awareness raising and strengthened community-based structures such as gender-based violence and child protection committees, protection monitors, gender-based violence advocates and other community groups. Sessions on protection from sexual exploitation and abuse, targeting women and girls, were scaled up to popularise community reporting mechanisms. 
  • Efforts to combat statelessness delivered positive results, through dedicated advocacy and engagement. In August 2020, the Ministry of Interior approved the National Statelessness Action Plan to Eradicate Statelessness by 2024. The Action Plan will serve as a roadmap guiding the Government and other stakeholders in implementing the South Sudan’s Global Refugee Forum pledges, including acceding to the Statelessness Conventions. 
  • UNHCR’s comprehensive health response was also strengthened. In addition to the 10 health facilities supported by UNHCR across refugee camps, two referral hospitals for secondary care were supported. 70% of host populations benefits from the Health services supported by UNHCR. The roll-out of comprehensive HIV/AIDs/TB services in 100% of health facilities, including the two referral hospitals was a notable achievement, as well as access to maternal care and reproductive health services. 
  • COVID-19 prevention and response efforts included awareness raising, increased soap distribution, installation of five GeneXpert machines in 6 facilities, renovation of health facilities, construction of isolation units, expansion of outpatient departments and improvements to WASH facilities in schools, health centres and in communal areas. 
  • Embracing the global UNHCR initiative “IDP Step Up Programme,” protection and protection-orientated assistance including the identification of persons with specific needs and provision of core relief items (CRIs) was strengthened. In 2020, 25,590 beneficiaries were supported with CRIs. Protection and UNHCR presence was also expanded to three additional States (Eastern Equatoria, Northern El Bar Ghazal, Warrap) and to Lake State through mobile coverage.

Unmet needs

At a time of unprecedented challenges and soaring needs, the operation was just 61% funded for 2020. As a result, the level of assistance and protection services was limited by lack of resources.

Refugee education was significantly impacted by COVID-19 and despite an increase in enrolment rates in 2020 to 147,821 pupils prior to the outbreak, only 62,192 could access some form of education through the pandemic period in 2020. Challenges included supporting refugees to access a remote learning platform provided by the government after closure of schools. Constraints included a lack of electricity, internet mobile telecommunication network and required hardware. Demand for tertiary education continued to soar, with limited opportunities despite excellent academic performance in national examinations.

A second year of unprecedented floods devastated the infrastructure and livelihoods of hundreds of people and challenged the ability to deliver much needed assistance. The critical need to rehabilitate and improve shelters, water and sanitation services and schools, as well as the distribution of core relief items, remained largely unmet.   

Solarization of water systems and boreholes for potable water to ensure a sustainable supply for refugees in times of insecurity when UNHCR and partners’ staff cannot access camps could not be prioritized.

A lack of funding prevented a significant scale-up in the implementation of quick impact projects in areas of IDP and refugee returns, including rehabilitation of community-level infrastructure, to ensure sustainable solutions.

Individual protection needs, family tracing and reunification, and housing, land, and property concerns also remained unaddressed for many refugees and IDPs. 

Use of flexible funding (unearmarked or softly earmarked funding)

The global pandemic required the operation to rapidly reprioritize key activities, with flexible funding allowing UNHCR to significantly scale up in health and WASH activities such as the construction of isolation facilities, rehabilitation of clinics, and prepositioning of personal protective equipment and hygiene materials for frontline health staff.

Flooding as well as flare-ups of sub-national violence resulted in significant needs for affected populations throughout the year. Unearmarked and softly earmarked funding provided UNHCR with the flexibility to provide core relief items to affected families. Due to seasonal rains as well as a lack of road infrastructure, flexible funding also supported the logistics costs associated with airfreight to move items to isolated and rural locations.

Working environment

In 2020, the operational environment is expected to remain complex and fluid despite a gradual process of the implementation of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict of the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) signed in September 2018 and Government of National Unity expected to be formed by November 2019.

Insecurity and access to people in dire need will remain a challenge in delivering aid, as the operational environment continues to be costly and logistically challenging, with unsafe and impassable roads.
UNHCR, however, remains realistically optimistic that the R-ARCSS will translate into a cessation of hostilities in 2020.

South Sudan is expected to maintain an open-door policy for refugees and asylum-seekers, allowing UNHCR to deliver protection and assistance to those in need.
In 2020, UNHCR plans to assist an estimated 1,526,000 people of concern, refugees, asylum-seekers, spontaneous refugee returnees, IDPs and persons at risk of statelessness (364,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, 500,000 spontaneous refugee returnees, 650,000 IDPs, 12,000 stateless persons).

Key priorities

Under the refugee response, UNHCR will:
  • continue to implement core protection and life-saving activities, and support refugee status determination processes to ensure identification and documentation of refugees;
  • Increase investments in livelihoods, child protection, youth programming and education to support protection, self-reliance and pathways to solutions and social cohesion with host communities.
  • Prevent and respond to cases of SGBV, child protection and provide support and core relief items to new arrivals and people with specific needs.
Under the spontaneous refugee returnee response, UNHCR will:
  • Ensure protection of spontaneous refugee returns by strengthening monitoring at 36 major border-crossing points and areas of return, and by exchanging information regularly with neighbouring countries of asylum.
  • Implement community and area-based assistance with targeted support for the extremely vulnerable.
Under the IDP response, UNHCR will:
  • Continue to search for solutions of IDPs in the protection of civilian sites, including further efforts to decongest these sites.
  • Support most vulnerable IDP families and people with specific needs
  • Promote peaceful coexistence with host communities and transparent dialogue on sharing resources and maintaining protection leadership and engagement in coordination.
  • Advocate for durable solutions through the Solutions Working Groups across the country and support the Government to develop and implement a national legislation on IDPs to enhance protection and solutions for IDPs.
To respond to statelessness, UNHCR will:
  • Conduct training for the officials of the Directorate of Nationality, Passport and Immigration to help them properly interpret and apply the Nationality Laws of South Sudan and to understand the possible consequences in terms of risk of statelessness.
  • Advocate for the accession to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
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