Roundup: UNHCR says over 14,500 Ethiopians fled into Sudan amid ongoing clashes

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ADDIS ABABA, Nov. 13 (Xinhua) -- The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) on Friday said its "extremely concerned" about the worsening crisis in northern Ethiopia where ongoing clashes between the Ethiopian federal government and Tigray forces are driving thousands of people to flee, more than half of them children.

A statement from the UN refugee agency, which quoted UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch, revealed that "since the violence began in early November, more than 14,500 children, women and men have fled into Sudan in search of safety, overwhelming the current capacity to provide aid."

Since the early hours of Nov. 4, the Ethiopian government had been undertaking military operations against the TPLF, the ruling party in Ethiopia's northernmost Tigray region and now in an official war against the federal government that followed TPLF's reported attack against the Northern command of the Ethiopian Defense Force, a division that has been stationed in the region for over two decades.

The agency also stressed that services for 96,000 Eritrean refugees inside Ethiopia's northernmost Tigray region "have been seriously disrupted, with reports of a growing number of Ethiopians becoming displaced internally."

It also called on all parties to respect the safety and security for all civilians in the region.

According to the UNHCR, the fighting had on Thursday moved closer to Shimelba refugee camp, which hosts 6,500 Eritrean refugees, raising concerns of mass displacement from the camp. UNHCR also said it is making preparations to receive refugees who have already begun arriving in Hitsats camp, 50 km away, and is considering further relocation options in the region.

"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 black out," the statement quoted Baloch as saying.

It also noted that the numbers of refugees seeking safety in neighboring Sudan are increasing rapidly, with over 4,000 crossing the border in just one day. The majority have crossed at Hamdayet border point in Kassala State and others at Lugdi in Gedaref state.

"People are arriving with very few belongings indicating they fled in a hurry. Arriving children are exhausted and scared. The majority originate from Humera inside Tigray, with others coming from the neighboring towns of Rawyan and Dima," the statement read.

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

The transit center at Hamdayet border crossing has a capacity to accommodate 300 refugees. The UNHCR, however, stressed that the center is "already overwhelmed with 6,000 people. Sanitation facilities are insufficient, impacting hygiene."

Those crossing through Lugdi are temporarily hosted at a transit centre in a site called Village 8, located 35 km away from the border. Hot meals are being provided with support from the World Food Programme and Muslim Aid. Local communities are also generously supporting the refugees with food.

The Sudan Red Crescent Society has deployed medical staff and essential medicines to Hamdayet to conduct health screenings, including for COVID-19, with plans to strengthen health support in the coming days, it said.

According to the UNHCR, as the numbers grow, the government has approved the establishment of a refugee camp at Um Rakuba, 80 km from the border, with a capacity to host up to 20,000 people. Additional sites are currently being identified. Enditem

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