GENEVA - The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) warns more than one million Ethiopians who were displaced by violence in southwestern Ethiopia, including those who have returned, are suffering from extreme deprivation and are in need of life-saving assistance.
Conflict between ethnic communities over dwindling resources has sent more than one million people fleeing for their lives since April. Most are living in schools, hospitals and makeshift shelters in the border areas of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region and the Oromia Region of Ethiopia.
UNHCR reports the displaced are in dire need of basic relief, including food, water, blankets and cooking supplies. It warns many IDPs are at risk of serious health problems and disease outbreaks with the approach of heavy seasonal rains. It says they urgently need plastic sheeting and warm clothing.
UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said people continue to flee the conflict zones. At the same time, he says more than 200,000 people have returned to their areas of origin. He told VOA some people are reluctant to return for fear violence will break out again.
“Some of the monitoring that we have done — it highlights that communities are still afraid. They are worried that there is nothing left to go back to. So, that is very important for us to make this call that for the remaining more than 600,000 displaced, people should be the ones deciding when to go back to their places of origin,” he said.
Baloch said it also is important that those who have returned to their homes, lands and farms be helped to rebuild their lives. In all cases, he said, returns must be voluntary and be conducted in safety and dignity.
He said the UNHCR and its partners urgently need more than $21 million for their humanitarian operations over the coming 12 months.