A History of Southern Sudan Refugees in Gambella, Ethiopia: From 1955 –2000

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Shimels Ayele


Ethiopia has a long tradition of accommodating refugees. The refugees from Southern Sudan were among the accommodated groups due to the destructive civil war since 1955. However, the experience of those refugees has not been a researched theme. Therefore, there is a need to reconstruct the history of southern Sudanese refugees in Gambella, Ethiopia from 1955 to 2000. This study is historical research in design. The sources were archival documents, informants selected using purposive sampling, and secondary literature. The data from these sources were exploited using narrative analysis. It is a type of analysis that connects events, actions, and experiences and arranges them chronologically. Evidence from these sources indicated that Southern Sudanese refugees arrived in Gambella in two phases. The first phase was started in 1955 due to the conflict between Anya Nya rebels and the government. Those refugees established both camp and self-settlement among local populations. They were supported by international organizations and the Ethiopian government. At that time, refugees had peaceful interaction with the host communities. Nevertheless, after the 1972 peace agreement between rebels and Sudanese government, many refugees were repatriated from Gambella, and some established permanent settlements. The revived conflict in the 1980s resulted in the second phase of refugees’ influx into Gambella. In this phase, refugees were accompanied by the militant group known as the Southern Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA). The arrival of SPLA had consequences in the interaction of the host community and refugees. Generally, the study discloses the Ethiopian experience of accommodating refuges.


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Shimels Ayele

Bahir Dar University, Faculty of Social Science, Department of History and Heritage Management