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Humanitarian Crisis Grips Ethiopia's Restive Tigray Region

People fleeing intense fighting in Ethiopia's Tigray region gather in the bordering Sudanese village 8, east of the town of Gadaref, Nov. 13, 2020.

United Nations aid agencies report Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region is in a worsening humanitarian crisis, as fighting intensifies and thousands continue to flee to neighboring countries.

Protection of Ethiopian civilians and Eritrean refugees is a major concern, with human rights monitors warning the weeklong fighting between Ethiopian federal forces and Tigray regional security forces could spin out of control.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says humanitarian aid to more than 2 million people in the region has been disrupted. It says security concerns are preventing food, health supplies and other relief from being delivered.

Babar Baloch, a spokesman for UNHCR, the U.N. Refugee Agency, says the safety of tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees who are living in camps near the conflict zone is at risk.

“Meanwhile, services for 96,000 Eritrean refugees inside Tigray have been seriously disrupted, with reports of growing numbers of Ethiopians themselves becoming displaced internally,” Baloch said.

Aid agencies say general living and operating conditions inside Tigray are becoming more difficult. They report power outages and say food and fuel supplies are becoming increasingly scarce. In addition, communications have been cut off, creating an information blackout.

Baloch said growing insecurity and lack of humanitarian assistance are driving an increasing number of people to flee across borders in search of safety. He said more than 14,500 refugees, half of them children have arrived in Sudan. He added that many more are on their way.

“People are arriving with very few belongings indicating they fled in a hurry. Arriving children are exhausted and are scared.… UNHCR and our partners are ramping up assistance, but the numbers of new arrivals are outpacing the capacity on the ground,” he said.

Baloch said Sudanese authorities have approved establishment of a new refugee camp to accommodate the growing number of new arrivals. He noted the camp, which can host up to 20,000 people, is 80 kilometers from the border. He said additional sites are being identified.