30 January 2021
South Sudan is one of the largest countries of refugee origin in Africa. An , westimated 2.2 million South Sudanese have fled the country. At the same time, it hosts a considerable refugee population. According to the UNHCR, South Sudan was hosting 310,006 refugees as of November 2020, 98 percent of whom were living in camps and settlements. They primarily come from neighbouring Sudan (93 percent), with smaller numbers from Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and Central African Republic. The country also faces large internal displacement. UNHCR estimates that there were 1.66 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) as of February 2020.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (RJMEC) reported that the already perilous economic situation and food insecurity in the country had been magnified by the COVID-19 lockdown measures. It also noted that voluntary returns of refugees were cut short by the pandemic, as borders to neighbouring Uganda and Sudan were closed. The Protection of Civilian (PoC) sites, which house a significant number of displaced people, had also been classified as locations at risk of COVID-19 due to their large and congested populations.
On 5 April 2020, the first case of COVID-19 in South Sudan was announced. Fearing that the virus would spread uncontrollably in the PoC sites for which UNMISS was responsible, the UN’s Special Representative of the Secretary General in South Sudan called for site residents to return to their villages voluntarily in a radio interview on 7 May 2020.
The first two positive COVID-19 cases in PoC sites were recorded on 13 May 2020 in Juba. The subsequent closing of the site by the government, even to humanitarian actors, prompted criticism for the deadly consequences for its inhabitants. The Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) Cluster in South Sudan reported as of November 2020 the following confirmed COVID-19 cases of IDPs in PoC sites: 6, including staff, in Juba (Population 29,658), 11 in Bentiu (Population 99,052) and 40 in Malakal (Population 27,930).
By December 2020, several UN agencies warned about the acute hunger crisis in the country, which is driven by “insecurity, the effects of COVID-19, the economic crisis, and the impact of flooding”. As of 28 January 2021, South Sudan has recorded 3929 COVID-19 cases in total.
- UNHCR, “South Sudan Situation: January-February 2020,” 20 March 2020, https://reporting.unhcr.org/sites/default/files/UNHCR%20South%20Sudan%20Situation%20Regional%20Update%20-%20January-February%202020.pdf
- UNHCR, “South Sudan: Refugee Statistics as of 30 November 2020,” 7 December 2020, https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/details/83753
- UNMISS, “Transcript of SRSG and Head of UNMISS Press Conference on COVID-19,” 7 May 2020, https://unmiss.unmissions.org/transcript-srsg-and-head-unmiss-press-conference-covid-19
- A.S.K. Njoroge, “On the Status of Implementation of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan,” 20 April 2020, Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (RJMEC), https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/JMEC-1st-Qtr-2020-Report-FINAL%201.pdf
- UN News, “South Sudan: Coronavirus Cases Confirmed Inside UN Civilian Protection Site,” 13 May 2020, https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/05/1064012
- N. Pendle, “COVID-19 in South Sudan’s UN Protection of Civilian Sites,” 17 May 2020, LSE Blogs, https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/africaatlse/2020/05/17/covid-19-south-sudans-un-protection-of-civilian-sites-poc-trust-unmiss/#:~:text=On%20Wednesday%2013%20May%20the,during%20the%20COVID%2D19%20pandemic
- World Food Programme, “UN agencies’ alarm at worsening hunger in South Sudan,” 18 December 2020, https://www.wfp.org/news/un-agencies-alarm-worsening-hunger-south-sudan
- CCCM Cluster South Sudan, “PoC Sites COVID-19 Update: As of 1st November 2020,” 3 November 2020, https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/en/infographic/20201103-cccm-cluster-idppoc-sites-covid-19-update-10
- Our World in Data, “South Sudan: Coronavirus Pandemic Country Profile,” https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus/country/south-sudan?country=~SSD