Ethiopian refugees report obstacles to reach safety in Sudan as numbers approach 50,000
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
11 December 2020
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, working with the local authorities, has now registered nearly 50,000 Ethiopian refugees who have crossed into eastern Sudan, with some reporting having to evade armed groups to reach safety. Since 6 December, the number of refugees escaping ongoing conflict in the northern Tigray region have been trending downward to under 500 per day. The recent groups coming from areas deeper inside Tigray are arriving weak and exhausted, some reporting they spent two weeks on the run inside Ethiopia as they made their way to the border.
They have told us harrowing accounts of being stopped by armed groups and robbed of their possessions. Many have spent time hiding in fields and bushes to avoid being spotted. Without access in Ethiopia we are unable to verify these disturbing reports. UNHCR remains very worried about the safety and condition of the Eritrean refugees in Tigray that have been caught in the conflict and have had no access to services and supplies for more than a month. We echo the UN Secretary-General’s call for unfettered access to Tigray in order to reach people in need.
We repeat the joint UN call for all parties to allow freedom of movement to affected civilians seeking assistance, safety, and security within the Tigray region or outside the affected areas. This includes respecting and upholding the right to cross international borders to seek asylum. Inside Sudan, UNHCR is working with the local authorities and partners, and continues to scale up its humanitarian response to assist Ethiopian refugees.
We have seen increasing requests for family tracing, as many were separated at the start of the conflict or during flight and have not been able to get in contact since. More medicines are needed, especially for those who were taking chronic medication for diabetes, HIV and other illness. UNHCR and its partners also need support to preventCovid-19 outbreaks, including more handwashing stations, PPE kits and information campaigns as refugees continue to be in overcrowded conditions.
As of Wednesday (9 Dec.) the first of five additional chartered flights began bringing more urgently needed humanitarian supplies into Sudan. In total, the airlifts from Dubai and Nairobi will bring in some 3,225 tents, 75,000 blankets, 45,000 sleeping mats, 20,000 solar lamps, 17,000 mosquito nets and 8,250 plastic sheets. With these flights, we have airlifted 440 metric tonnes of humanitarian relief since 27 November. UNHCR also continues to move refugees away from the border with some 14,000 relocated to the Um Rakuba refugee settlement so far. UNHCR and partners have appealed for US$147 million to cover the needs and to support the government of Sudan, which continues to welcome and host refugees.