UN appeals for urgent support as over 33,000 Ethiopians flee to Sudan amid ongoing fighting

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Ethiopian refugees gather n Qadarif region, easter Sudan, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Marwan Ali)
Ethiopian refugees gather in the Qadarif region, eastern Sudan, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Marwan Ali)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Refugee Agency, appealed for “urgent support” to help the influx of Ethiopian refugees fleeing to neighboring Sudan amid the ongoing fighting between the Ethiopian federal government and an insurgent Northern Tigray regional government.

A statement from the UN refugee agency, which quoted UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch, revealed: “as the numbers of people fleeing Ethiopia’s Tigray region for eastern Sudan now exceed 33,000, UNHCR is working flat out to get enough vitally-needed assistance to women, children and men in great need.”

“Staff at Hamdayet border crossing in Kassala State, and the Lugdi crossing in Gedaref State, continue to register thousands of new arrivals each day,” the statement issued on late Friday read.

According to the agency, refugees were going about their daily lives when fighting erupted suddenly.

“We have met teachers, nurses, office workers, farmers and students who were completely caught by surprise. Many fled with nothing except what they had with them and then had to walk for hours and cross a river to seek safety in Sudan,” the statement read.

Refugees are arriving in remote areas that have very little infrastructure. It takes at least six hours to reach Hamdayet from Kassala and to reach Village 8 – another location temporarily hosting refugees, it was noted.

“The overall needs are huge, but there has been some progress in meeting them as more assistance reaches the border,” the UNHCR said, adding that hot meals are still being provided, water is being delivered.

The UN Refugee Agency has deployed staff to identify the most vulnerable people with particular needs. More medical supplies are reaching the health clinics including ready to use therapeutic and supplementary food.

Over 5,000 refugees have been transferred from the borders to Um-Raquba settlement, located some 70km inland.

The UNHCR also appealed for “immediate support from donors to be able to continue assisting the increasing number of refugees.”

According to the UNHCR, in addition to Ethiopians fleeing to Sudan, the number of internally displaced people within Ethiopia itself “is growing by the day after nearly two weeks of conflict.”

“The lack of access to those in need, coupled with the inability to move relief supplies into the region, remain major impediments,” the statement quoted Baloch as saying.

“We are increasingly concerned about the safety and security of all civilians in Tigray, including the 100,000 Eritrean refugees located in four camps there. UNHCR has not heard from its staff since Monday. We are very worried,” Baloch added.

Noting that Eritrean refugees in Tigray were “completely reliant” on assistance, including food and water, before the conflict erupted, the UNHCR also stressed that there are “major concerns that ongoing hostilities will drastically affect services in the camps.”

The UNHCR also joined other UN agencies in calling for all parties to the conflict to protect displaced civilians and respect the safety of humanitarian staff, a temporary ceasefire with immediate effect to allow humanitarian corridors to be established, and urges unimpeded and immediate humanitarian access to reach people in need in areas under the respective control of the warring parties.

Amid the ongoing fighting, the Ethiopian government on Saturday announced the capture of cities from Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) fighters in different directions across the restive Tigray regional state.

“The Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) took full control of Axum, Adwa and the surrounding areas of Adigrat,” the state of emergency task force established by the federal government to watch over the ongoing military operations against the TPLF, said in a statement.

The Ethiopian government also disclosed that its forces are now on course to the regional capital, Mekelle, where many believe senior TPLF leaders are presently stationed.

Since the early hours of Nov. 4, the Ethiopian government has been undertaking military operations against the TPLF, which rules over Ethiopia’s northernmost Tigray regional state.

The federal government’s operation followed the TPLF’s attack on the Northern command base of the Ethiopian Defense Force, a division stationed in the region for over two decades and based in Mekelle city, capital of Tigray region.

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