U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi is in the Sudanese capital Khartoum to review aid operations aimed at helping growing numbers of refugees fleeing conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. More than 43,000 Ethiopians have crossed the border into Eastern Sudan this month.
Conditions in Tigray are becoming more dangerous and growing numbers of refugees are fleeing to Sudan in search of protection and shelter. This large influx is putting an enormous burden upon the Sudanese government and aid agencies.
The U.N. refugee chief is meeting with officials in Khartoum to see how his agency can best support the government and meet the overwhelming needs of the refugees.
The UNHCR continues to ramp up its relief effort together with Sudan’s Commission on Refugees, local authorities and other humanitarian agencies. UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch says new camp sites are being built and work is going ahead to erect more shelters and improve services.
He tells VOA the UNHCR has helped to relocate nearly 10,000 refugees away from the border inside Sudan. However, he notes many refugees want to stay close to the border in hopes of seeing family members who have become separated from them during their flight.
“That is why one important service that we humanitarians working with authorities are providing is family tracing services," said Baloch. "We have been able to get some family members reunited but worries are there that many are left behind. And those who are fleeing they talk about the conflict, hearing gunshots. Some have just fled even before in anticipation of the conflict reaching them.”
The UNHCR is raising concern for the safety of civilians caught in conflict inside Ethiopia’s Tigray, particularly in the capital Mekele, home to more than 500,000 people.
These concerns are widely shared by humanitarians and activists since the Ethiopian prime minister announced plans to launch a so-called final phase in Tigray’s northern region. Fearing many civilian casualties, the United Nations is warning of possible war crimes if the Ethiopian army attacks Mekele.
Baloch says the worsening situation of some 96,000 Eritrean refugees in four camps in Tigray is also very worrying. Before the start of the conflict in early November, he says the UNHCR had regular access to the refugees.
“Since the start of it, we have lost access," said Baloch. "We had done, and these refugees rely on humanitarian distributions. We had done the distribution we had done before the start of the conflict. According to what they have had, is they will be running out of food as of Monday.”
The UNHCR is calling for unconditional and unhindered humanitarian access to reach these desperate people with life-saving aid as soon as possible.