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UNHCR Calls for Immediate Stop to Fighting in Blue Nile State

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres (file photo)

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, is calling for an immediate stop to fighting in Sudan’s Blue Nile State. The High Commissioner says it is crucial to head off another humanitarian crisis.

The U.N. refugee chief’s appeal comes amidst reports of thousands of people fleeing across the Sudanese border into Ethiopia, as well as reports of increasing numbers of displaced people in areas around the town of Damazin in Blue Nile State.

U.N. refugee spokeswoman, Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba says the UNHCR has received reports of some 16,000 people fleeing across the border into Ethiopia. She says High Commissioner Antonio Guterres wants to stop yet one more refugee crisis from taking hold in the region.

“The High Commissioner is concerned because we have so many refugee crises in the hand right now, including of course in the Horn of Africa," said Lejeune-Kaba. "For example, we still have some Sudanese from the north-south war that are in Ethiopia. We have the Somalis coming in every day fleeing drought and conflict, plus the famine. So, this latest crisis is just going to make it more difficult and stretch our resources further than we would like to see.”

Fighting erupted in the ethnically divided Blue Nile state on Friday. The state is located north of Sudan’s new international border.

The residents of Blue Nile State are Sudanese citizens, but many of them have greater allegiance to the troops in the newly independent South Sudan, who previously had fought against the Islamist north.

Lejeune-Kaba says a UNHCR team went Saturday to the towns of Kirmuk and Gizane in western Ethiopia to assess the situation of the refugees.

“Our immediate concern is to, indeed, assist them and see if we need to move them to a nearby existing camp where they can get assistance,” she said.

Lejeune-Kaba says the assessment team will get a more accurate count of the number of Sudanese who have fled the Blue Nile conflict. She says the team will see the condition of the refugees and, on that basis, determine the immediate and longer-range assistance needed.