FILE - Tigray men sit atop a hill overlooking part of the Umm Rakouba refugee camp, hosting people who fled the conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, in Qadarif, eastern Sudan, Dec. 14, 2020.
FILE - The Umm Rakouba refugee camp in Qadarif, eastern Sudan, hosts people who fled the Tigray region of Ethiopia, Dec. 14, 2020. UNHCR says, Feb. 23, 2020, at least 7,000 people fled escalating ethnic violence in western Ethiopia to Sudan.

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - The U.N. refugee agency reports intercommunal violence in Ethiopia’s Western Benishangul Gumuz region has sent thousands of people fleeing for safety to Sudan’s Blue Nile State in recent weeks.

Insecurity in Ethiopia’s Metekel zone in Benishangul Gumuz region has been ongoing since 2019.  However, tensions in the region have rapidly escalated in the past three months.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission reports an estimated 500 people have been killed in the region in the last five  months.  Of these, it says more than 200 lost their lives in just one day – on December 23.

U.N. refugee agency spokesman Babar Baloch says the escalating violence has prompted several thousand people to seek refuge in Sudan’s Blue Nile State over the last month.

“The refugee arrivals itself started in November with a couple of hundred refugees crossing into Sudan.  But in the last few weeks, the number has picked up and we now have an estimated 7,000.  I mean the stories that refugees are bringing is fleeing attacks from their opponents,” he said.

The escalating violence prompted the federal government of Ethiopia to declare a state of emergency in the Metekel zone on January 21.

Baloch said many of the refugees who recently fled Ethiopia have arrived in hard-to-reach locations along the border. He said the UNHCR is working closely with Sudanese authorities and partners to assess the situation and respond to the humanitarian needs of the refugees from Benishangul Gumuz.

“The region is in western Ethiopia.  As I currently understand, this displacement is not directly related to the conflict in the country’s northern Tigray region which have pushed more than 61,000 refugees to seek safety in Sudan in recent months,” he said.

Baloch said the majority of the asylum-seekers are living among the Sudanese host community. So far, he said nearly 3,000 refugees have been registered and nearly 1,000 have been provided with food, water and sanitation, and access to health and aid supplies.