Humanitarian organizations are ramping up efforts to assist refugees who continue streaming into Sudan to escape fighting in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region.
Jense Hesemann, emergency coordinator for the U.N. refugee agency in Sudan, said thousands of new Ethiopian refugees are arriving in Sudan every day.
“The emergency refugee registration teams at UNHCR and the government’s commission for refugees here in Sudan by now have registered over 40,000 new arrivals from Ethiopian since the 7th of November this year,” Hesemann told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus.
The refugees enter Sudan through the Hamdayet border point in Kassala state, the Lugdi border point in Gadaref state and a new location further south at the Aderafi border point where about 700 Ethiopian refugees crossed into Sudan’s Blue Nile state over the weekend.
The number of Ethiopian refugees entering Sudan could soon reach 200,000 if fighting between Ethiopian federal government troops and Tigray regional forces continues, said Hesemann.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday urged government forces and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) to give clear orders to their forces to spare and protect the civilian population from ongoing clashes.
"The highly aggressive rhetoric on both sides regarding the fight for [Tigray's regional capital of] Mekelle is dangerously provocative and risks placing already vulnerable and frightened civilians in grave danger," Bachelet said.
"I fear such rhetoric will lead to further violations of international humanitarian law," she added, expressing alarm at reports of a heavy build-up of tanks and artillery around Mekelle.
Artis Noor, Sudan country director for U.S.-based Mercy Corps, recently visited Gadaref state’s Um Raquba camp where his agency set up a health clinic and has treated thousands of Ethiopian refugees.
“In Um Raquba as of yesterday we had more than 6,500 individuals who have been living in that camp," Noor told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus. "Mercy Corps is providing critical health services, urgently needed health services through a health clinic which is basically a primary health center and we are providing outdoor consultations."
Noor said Mercy Corps also established a referral facility with an ambulance to treat “seriously ill refugees” who require the “next level of care.”
“On average we are seeing between 90 to 120 patients each day, most of them are women and children and the most common illnesses we are seeing are upper respiratory tract infections, diarrhea and malaria,” Noor told VOA.
On top of the large influx of refugees from Ethiopia, Noor said Sudan is still coping with the effects of devastating floods, a second wave of COVID-19 cases, and a deteriorating economy.
“The government was already struggling to meet the humanitarian needs in the aftermath of COVID-19 and the floods and now it has to deal with the refugee situation as well, so this is going to stretch the already meager resources the government of Sudan has,” added Noor.
Hesemann and Noor are calling on international donors to increase their support so that the UNHCR and Mercy Corps can assist the growing numbers of Ethiopian refugees.