Distressed Ethiopian refugees need help - GulfToday

Distressed Ethiopian refugees need help

Ethiopean Refugees

Ethiopean refugees line up to receive food at a camp. Reuters

The plight of Ethiopian refugees fleeing the country to Sudan is cause for major concern.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of people have died since Ethiopian government troops launched a war a little over two weeks ago in northern Tigray state against regional authorities they accused of staging a surprise attack on federal forces.

UN agencies are gearing up for the possible arrival of 200,000 refugees in Sudan fleeing the violence in Ethiopia over a six-month period, with one voicing fears that the burden could “unravel” its neighbour.

Unicef’s  Sudan-based representative Abdullah Fadil voiced fears about the impact of the arrivals on a country already facing major economic and political challenges and hosting a million refugees from other African neighbours.

Sudan knows full well the consequences of a conflict. It itself has been badly hit by regional conflicts for decades.

More than 300,000 people are estimated to have been killed and 2.5 million displaced since 2003 in the Darfur region. Sudan’s power-sharing government and several rebel groups formalised a peace agreement in October.

The Ethiopian government rebuffed an African effort to mediate on Saturday, saying its troops had seized another town in their march towards the rebel-held capital of northern Tigray region.

Ethiopia denied that talks on the growing conflict in its northern Tigray region were imminent, just hours after three African former presidents were named to help mediate the crisis.

More than two weeks into Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s offensive, the government says Tigrayan forces are bulldozing roads and destroyed bridges to hold up the advance on regional capital Mekelle, home to about half a million people. The Ethiopian military plans to use tanks to encircle Mekelle.

The number of people fleeing Ethiopia’s Tigray region for eastern Sudan has exceeded 33,000.  There were concerns over disease spreading amongst the crowds, of whom nearly half are children. Many fled with nothing except what they had with them and then had to walk for hours and cross a river to seek safety in Sudan.

The UN Refugee Agency is working flat out to get enough vitally needed assistance to women, children and men in great need.

Over 5,000 refugees have been transferred from the borders to Um Raquba settlement – 70 kilometres inland. UNHCR needs immediate support from donors to be able to continue assisting the increasing number of refugees.

Within Ethiopia itself, the number of internally displaced people is growing by the day after nearly two weeks of conflict. The lack of access to those in need, coupled with the inability to move relief supplies into the region, remain major impediments. The safety and security of all civilians in Tigray, including the 100,000 Eritrean refugees located in four camps there, is of paramount concern. UNHCR has not heard from its staff since Monday.  

The conflict is creating a humanitarian crisis in Tigray, where many among the more than 5 million population were already displaced and relying on food aid even before the conflict.

The Tigrayans have promised “hell” for their advancing enemies. They have denied destroying bridges. Rebels in north Ethiopia said that nine people had died among heavy civilian casualties during an assault by Abiy Ahmed’s federal troops on the town of Adigrat.

UNHCR joins other UN agencies in calling for all parties to the conflict to protect displaced civilians and respect the safety of humanitarian staff, a temporary ceasefire with immediate effect to allow humanitarian corridors to be established, and urges unimpeded and immediate humanitarian access to reach people in need in areas under the respective control of the warring parties. It remains to be seen whether this call will be heeded by the parties involved in the conflict.

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