– A fresh wave of air strikes in Sudan’s Blue Nile State since last Wednesday has sent increasing numbers of refugees fleeing into Ethiopia, with some 1,500 pouring through the Kurmuk border crossing last Friday alone. The latest bombs reportedly fell Monday.
“With hostilities still ongoing, we expect the numbers to continue rising,” UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva, reporting that an estimated 25,000 Sudanese have found refuge in western Ethiopia since the influx started on 03 September.
UNHCR and its partner agencies launched a formal appeal for funds Tuesday to help refugees fleeing into western Ethiopia from Blue Nile State. The joint appeal by UNHCR, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the International Organization for Migration amounts to some US$18.3 million and is intended to help up to 35,000 refugees. UNHCR’s share of this requirement is $10 million.
At the Kurmuk border point, refugees said they had fled fighting around Damazine, the Blue Nile State capital, and had walked for up to a week to reach safety. More recent arrivals are coming with beds, televisions and their goats – suggesting they may anticipate a long exile.
“Most of the refugees are staying in local communities around Kurmuk,” Edwards said in Geneva. “Many are sleeping in the open, presenting increased risk of illness and disease. An additional concern is the safety of refugees in villages near Kurmuk, because of the area’s proximity to locations in Sudan where bombing is ongoing.”
UNHCR and Ethiopia’s Government Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs are trying to relocate refugees to Sherkole camp, some 50 kilometres to the southeast, where they can get basic services and better protection.
So far more than 3000 people have been moved and the pace of relocations is expected to increase. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is helping transfer refugees and their belongings to Sherkole.
With more refugees arriving, the Ethiopian Government has allocated land to build two transit centers near the main border entry points. Farmatsore transit centre will accommodate approximately 3,000 new arrivals entering Ethiopia through the Kurmuk border; and Adimazin transit camp — near the Gizen border crossing — will accommodate another 5,000 people. Another site, Tonga, is also being developed as a camp.
By Pumla Rulashe
In Assosa, Ethiopia (UNHCR)