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Ethiopians Continue Streaming Into Sudan, Fleeing Tigray Region Violence

FILE - People who fled ongoing fighting in Ethiopia's Tigray region queue to receive food aid in Hamdayet village in Sudan's eastern Kassala state, Dec. 15, 2020.

The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) reports some 800 Ethiopians have arrived in eastern Sudan since the start of the new year. This brings the total number of refugees who have fled Ethiopia’s conflict-ridden Tigray region to more than 56,000 since early November.

The number of daily arrivals is lower than at the start of the crisis when fighting in Tigray was particularly intense and thousands were fleeing every day. Nevertheless, the UNHCR sees no let up to the violence, abuse and dangers confronting area civilians.

UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic says hundreds of Ethiopians continue to flee for their lives. He says refugees are arriving in eastern Sudan fatigued and weak after days of travel, with little more than the clothes on their backs.

“Latest arrivals tell of being caught in the conflict and being victims of various armed groups, facing perilous situations including looting of their houses, forced recruitment of men and boys, sexual violence against women and girls,” he said.

Mahecic said more than 30% of the refugees are younger than 18 and 5% are older than 60.

He said two reception centers located near the border with Ethiopia are overcrowded and pose a security risk to the refugees. Consequently, he said, the UNHCR, its partners and Sudan’s Commission for Refugees are relocating the refugees as quickly as possible to a new site deeper inside Sudan.

He said the government and humanitarian agencies are scaling up their assistance to the growing refugee population. More than 20 agencies on the ground, he said, are providing shelter, health, food and nutrition services. He noted that the needs are great and that more funding is required to sustain the humanitarian operation.

“In particular, it is critical to further improve water and sanitation conditions in the refugee camps and reception areas, as well as ramp up COVID-19 prevention measures, including isolation facilities. Additional funding is also required to sustain shelter projects and improve the living conditions of refugees in the camps, especially in anticipation of the next rainy season, which is expected to start in May,” Mahecic said.

At the end of 2020, the UNHCR and partners appealed for $156 million to meet the emergency needs of Ethiopian refugees fleeing Tigray through the first half of 2021. So far only $40 million have been pledged, far short of the target.