The violence in northern Ethiopia will likely bring 200,000 people to neighboring Sudan in the coming months, warned UN agencies, where food, shelter and medicine are urgently needed.
The number of refugees crossing the border has already exceeded the agency’s preparations by 11,000 people, an official with the UN refugee agency said.
“Together with all the agencies, we built a response plan for about 20,000 people and we are currently at about 31,000, so it has already exceeded that number,” Axel Bisschop said at a briefing in Geneva. “The new planning figure is around 200,000.”
The fighting in the Tigray region has also left more than 2 million children in urgent need of assistance, and thousands more at risk in Sudanese refugee camps, Unicef said.
The agency is particularly concerned about the possible spread of disease among refugees, almost half of whom are children.
“Within the Tigray region, restricted access and ongoing communications blackouts have left an estimated 2.3 million children in need of humanitarian assistance and out of reach,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
Another 12,000 children, some of them without parents or relatives, are “among those who are sheltering in camps and registration centers and are at risk,” Fore added.
Earlier this month, the Ethiopian government announced a six-month state of emergency in Tigray, where a telecommunications and electricity blackout, along with limited fuel and cash, has in fact blocked humanitarian access.
For those who fled to Sudan, life is not much easier. The camps are overcrowded and the refugees have been struggling with unsanitary conditions and limited access to water and food, UNHCR said.
UNICEF is trying to provide urgent assistance and life support for children living in “extremely harsh” conditions in the camps. UN agencies are seeking $ 50 million in immediate funding that will go towards providing food and establishing new camps.
Fore called on all parties to the conflict to allow humanitarian access. “Every effort should be made to keep children out of harm’s way and to ensure that they are protected from recruitment and use in conflict,” he said.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched military operations two weeks ago after accusing the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which runs Tigray, of attacking a military camp and attempting to seize military equipment. The TPLF denies the charges and has accused the prime minister of fabricating history to justify the offensive.
The open hostilities are the culmination of months, even years, of mounting tensions between the TPLF leadership and the ruling coalition in Addis Ababa, the national capital.
Few observers believe the hostilities will end soon, and senior US diplomats said late Thursday that neither side was interested in mediation.
“Anyone who has worked with these two parties, I think they can appreciate the fact that they have very, very strong opinions about what they want to do and when they want to do it,” said Tibor Nagy, the US undersecretary for African affairs. reporters. “Mediation is actually a very good tactic, but it can only be used when the people involved or the parties involved are prepared for mediation.”
The US ambassador to Ethiopia, Michael Raynor, said his recent talks with Abiy and Debretsion Gebremichael, the leader of the TPLF, had convinced him that there was “a strong commitment from both sides to carry the military conflict.”
Ethiopia has long been a lynchpin of US policy in the fragile East Africa region, and so far Washington has supported Ahmed.
“There is no equivalency here,” Nagy said. “It is not about two sovereign states fighting each other. This is a faction of the government that runs a region in Ethiopia that has decided to launch hostilities against the central government, and it has not … had the effect that they thought they were going to achieve. “
Humanitarian workers described pregnant women, separated families and sick elderly among the thousands of refugees who continue to arrive daily in Sudan from Ethiopia.
“People sleep in the open air. There are no tents, only blankets. There is some food, such as oatmeal and water, but there are no toilets, showers or health services. Many families arrived with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. Basically, they come with nothing, nothing, ”said Will Carter, country director for the Norwegian Council for Refugees in Sudan.
“There are pregnant women in the camp, diabetics without insulin, people living with HIV / AIDS without medical care and children without parents. It is a deeply traumatic and depressing time for many, ”Carter added.
Agencies contributed to this report
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