Over 11 000 Ethiopians flee to Sudan as conflict escalates

The UN refugee agency said it was helping Sudan to provide aid to more than 7 000 refugees. Thousands of people crossed from Ethiopia in the past two days, warning “the number is likely to rise sharply”.

Alsir Khaled, head of Sudan’s refugee agency in Kassala, told AFP that 6 000 people had crossed into the state this week; another 5 000 into Gadaref, both in eastern Sudan.

“What’s happening in #Ethiopia is gut-wrenching. Behind the dispassionate statistics on both sides are our Ethiopian brothers & sisters. The humanitarian crisis is deepening. The social media hatred & bravado is fueling further pain & division. War has no winners, only survivors!”

Professor Senait Fisseha

The situation in Ethiopia

Officials quoted by state news agency SUNA said they feared the influx of refugees. Local farmers had been collecting food and providing shelter, and the number of refugees could rise sharply in the coming days.

The report released by news agency SUNA said 6 000 had taken refuge in the state of Gedaref. About 1 100 in Kassala, both in eastern Sudan. Another 1 500 refugees had already arrived on Tuesday, local officials were quoted as saying.

Among those who have fled across the border are Ethiopian soldiers. Sudanese efforts to help the refugees are being stretched. Khaled said Khartoum was awaiting support from international aid agencies.

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Ethiopians call for the end of the government’s military actions in the northern Tigray region in front of the US State Department in Washington, DC. Photo: AFP/Nicholas Kamm

Refugees flee as conflict escalates

In a statement, the UN refugee agency said it was helping to provide assistance to “women, children and men” seeking safety in Sudan after fleeing fighting in Ethiopia. The UNHCR said:

“With thousands of refugees arriving at the Sudanese border in the space of 24 hours, and with the conflict appearing to escalate, the number is likely to rise sharply,”

Moreover, the refugees were being provided with food and water at temporary shelters in transit centres near the border, said the Geneva-based organisation.

Emergency relief preparedness

It said it was stepping up emergency relief preparedness in the region. It was also expecting more refugee arrivals in neighbouring countries.

“We are urging governments in the neighbouring countries to keep their borders open for people forced from their homes,” said the UNHCR’s Clementine Nkweta-Salami.

She also appealed to Ethiopia to “take steps that will allow us to keep providing assistance in safety to refugees and internally displaced within Tigray.”

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Ethiopians hold candles during a lighting ceremony on the eve of the 45th anniversary of the launching of the “Armed Struggle of the Peoples of Tigray”, on 18 February 2020, at Mekelle city, some 780kms north of the capital Addis Ababa. Photo: AFP/Michael Tewelde

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into the northern state of Tigray last week; after a months-long feud with its ruling party.

Abiy, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) had crossed a “red line” and attacked two federal military bases, which the party denies.

‘Drawn-out conflict in Ethiopia’

The international community has expressed concern about the potential for a drawn-out conflict in Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous nation.

The UNHCR said it was “deeply concerned for the more than 96 000” people in Ethiopian refugee camps; as well as 100 000 in Tigray who had already been internally displaced.

In addition, the UNHCR said it “remains worried about the safety of refugees and humanitarian workers; due to the relative proximity of the camps to the fighting and the deteriorating situation.”

© Agence France-Presse

Also read: Ethiopia conflict could extend the Greater Middle East’s arc of crisis

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