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UN Agencies Scramble to Assist Those Fleeing Ethiopia's Restive Tigray Region

Men who fled fighting in Ethiopia's Tigray region queue for food rations at Um-Rakoba camp, on the Sudan-Ethiopia border, in Al-Qadarif state, Sudan, Nov. 19, 2020.

U.N. agencies are bracing for a full-scale humanitarian crisis in eastern Sudan, as refugees flee the fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. The latest reports put the current number of arrivals at more than 33,000.

To assist those fleeing, aid agencies are scrambling to get life-saving assistance to the growing number of refugees along the Sudanese-Ethiopian border. They say an average of 4,000 to 5,000 people are arriving in eastern Sudan every day, and that the needs are absolutely overwhelming.

Speaking via video link from the capital Khartoum, the U.N. refugee agency representative in Sudan, Axel Bisschop, said several U.N. agencies visited the main border crossing of Hamdayat to gauge the developing situation.

“Now what is happening here, is that people are crossing the river and they are coming in by foot. They are being taken care of in this reception center where the main priority at the moment is to be sure that registration is taking place. Now, we also have the issues in relation to protection, food, water, shelter and health,” he said.

Bisschop said aid agencies had made provisions to help 20,000 refugees. He said that figure has been surpassed and replaced with a new planning figure of 200,000. He said $50 million is urgently needed to provide emergency assistance now but an estimated $200 million will be required over the next six months.

The U.N. Children’s Fund reports children account for about 45% of the refugees. UNICEF representative in Sudan Abdullah Fadil said many families fled in a hurry and are arriving with few belongings. He said they are scared and express worry about the people they have left behind in Tigray.

Fadil said Sudan is already hosting over 1.2 million refugees and is dealing with over two million internally displaced people. He said the inflation rate is over 240%.

He told VOA that Sudan’s generosity in hosting the Ethiopian refugees while facing an economic crisis of its own is admirable.

“So, Sudan is burdened with a lot of its own economic and political issues. Having 200,000 more refugees when they cannot afford and at the border where political instability has the potential to not only impact Sudan but the entire region,” Fadil said.

UNICEF priorities include the distribution of hygiene materials, water and sanitation, to reunite children separated from their families and provide psychological support to them and people affected by gender-based violence and other human rights violations.

The World Food Program currently is preparing meals for 60,000 people a day. It aims to provide food and nutrition assistance for up to 200,000 Ethiopian refugees for six months.

The UNHCR is in the process of relocating refugees away from the border to new sites where they will be safer and have greater access to life-saving aid.

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