Ongoing clashes between the Ethiopian federal government and Tigray forces have driven 30,000 people from northern Ethiopia across the border into neighbouring Sudan. 

Women, men and children have been fleeing at a rate of 4,000 per day since early November – the largest refugee influx in decades to this part of the country.

They are arriving exhausted and scared after enduring two weeks of fighting, taking shelter in transit centres near the border where they are receiving water and meals.

When gunfire erupted, Gannite tried to make sense of the scene unfolding in her village in northern Ethiopia. 

“We did not know what was going on when we heard the gun shots,” Gannite says.

“Many people were killed – we could see 10, 20 bodies lying on the ground. That’s when we decided to leave.”

With no time to pack a bag, she set off on a gruelling three-day trek to neighbouring Sudan in a desperate search for safety.

“I walked until my legs were injured and bleeding,” she says, days after reaching the Sudanese border town of Hamdayet.

“I thank God that we are safe here and we have something to eat.”

UNHCR and its partners are ramping up assistance, but the numbers of new arrivals are far outpacing the capacity on the ground. © UNHCR/H.Elhag

The majority of those fleeing originate from Humera inside Tigray, with others coming from the neighbouring towns of Rawyan and Dima. Most have crossed into Sudan through Hamdayet border point in Kassala State. 

The border area is remote – at least a six-hour drive from the nearest big town – making it difficult to quickly deliver food and supplies. 

UNHCR and partners are working to provide temporary shelter, food, potable water and health screening for new arrivals. Relief items are also being distributed including blankets, sleeping mats and plastic sheeting. 

“Many people were killed – we could see 10, 20 bodies lying on the ground. That’s when we decided to leave.”

The crisis in Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country after Nigeria, has been building for months. Services for 96,000 Eritrean refugees inside Tigray have been seriously disrupted with reports of a growing number of Ethiopians becoming internally displaced.

General living and operating conditions inside Tigray are becoming more difficult with power outages and food and fuel supplies becoming extremely scarce. Communications have been cut off creating an information blackout. 

 

UNHCR is ramping up support, but the number of new arrivals is far outpacing the capacity on the ground. The transit center at Hamdayet, with a capacity for just 300 refugees, is extremely overstretched with more than 12,000 people currently sheltering there. 

Even before the current influx from Ethiopia, Sudan was already hosting nearly one million refugees and asylum-seekers, most of them from South Sudan and Eritrea.

UNHCR expects that the influx will continue to grow and is working on a contingency plan for 50,000 people.

Since Saturday, UNHCR has so far relocated 2,500 refugees to the new settlement camp of Um Raquba — about 80 km from the border.

The new site has a limited capacity of up to 5,000 people and requires major infrastructure work. 

With more refugee arrivals expected in neighbouring countries, UNHCR is urgently working with governments and partners to put in place measures to respond to the influx of people as the situation evolves.

But we need your support.

Since Saturday, UNHCR has so far relocated 2,500 refugees to the new settlement camp of Um Raquba — about 80 km from the border. © Ritzau Scanpix

Please donate today to help the thousands of children, women and men who have been forced to flee because of fighting and conflict in Ethiopia.

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