The United Nations and other agencies are rushing to relocate thousands of refugees camped out along the disputed Sudan-Ethiopia border to safer areas further away.
Tensions along the border region between Sudan and Ethiopia have grown since the conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray province started in early November. Since then, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that more than 58,000 Ethiopian refugees have fled for safety across the border into Sudan.
The agency reports between 200 and 500 refugees continue to arrive every day at two border crossings. UNHCR Representative in Sudan Axel Bisschop has just returned from a mission to east Sudan. He says the UNHCR is moving the refugees to designated settlements farther from the border where they will be safer and have better living conditions.
“UNHCR is trying, together with partners, to actually decongest these border areas. This is due to the fact that we do not want the refugees to be residing so close to the border," said Bisschop. "So, we have relocated about 20,000 to the Um Rakuba area and we are about now to relocate the rest to the Tunaydbah area.”
The Um Rakuba camp is about 70 kilometers from the border. It was constructed shortly after the refugee influx began in early November. In less than two months, it had reached its capacity of 20,000 refugees.
Bisschop says the new Tunaybdah site, which is around 137 kilometers farther from the border, was opened January 3 to handle the overflow.
“The Tunaybdah site is a site which has been developed on an area which is very, very remote. At the moment, we do not have any electricity there," said Bisschop. "We have pitched tents and we are trying, and we are actually racing against the clock here to get the camp up and running…At the moment, we have moved about 5,000 people but we expect to actually move about 20,000 additional people there.”
Getting to the camp is very difficult. Bisschop says it can take up to 15 hours of travel over rough terrain to reach the site from the border. He says aid agencies are now setting up shelters and infrastructure. He says health care, water and food are available for the refugees. As more refugees arrive, though, more relief will be needed.
He says additional funding is required to quickly set up the remaining services and to ensure the increasing needs of the Ethiopian refugees are being met. He is calling for more support from international donors, noting only 33% of the U.N.’s $147 million appeal, so far, has been received.