UN Warns of Worsening crisis in Northern Ethiopia

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said the worsening crisis in northern Ethiopia due to ongoing clashes between the Ethiopian federal government and Tigray regional forces is driving thousands of people to flee, more than half of them children.

Since the violence began early November, more than 15,000 children, women and men have fled into Sudan in search of safety, overwhelming the current capacity to provide aid.

UNHCR said the numbers are increasing rapidly with over 4,000 people 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.

” The situation is very bad. There are about 15,000 here right now, who fled and have basically arrived in the last five days. We have started to provide assistance services – UNHCR, WFP, The Sudanese Red Cross, Muslim Aid and other service providers. And you can see the start of some assistance provision but much more needs to be done.” said Jens Hesemann, Assistant Representative, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 

The Agency said people are arriving with very few belongings indicating they fled in a hurry. UNHCR and its partners are ramping up assistance, but the numbers of new arrivals are far outpacing the capacity on the ground.

UNHCR said the transit centre at Hamdayet border crossing has a capacity to accommodate 300 refugees but is already overwhelmed with 6,000 people. Sanitation facilities are insufficient, impacting hygiene. 

Meanwhile, The UN says it is alarmed” by the escalating conflict in the north of Ethiopia, “there have been reports of rocket attacks on the Amhara region, as well as in Eritrea. There was also a reported air strike in the vicinity of Mekelle, the main city in Tigray region,” said a UN Spokesperson.

Speaking to reporters UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said, “our humanitarian colleagues repeat their call to all parties to the conflict to de-escalate to avoid further casualties and the suffering of civilians.”

Dujarric continued, “according to unconfirmed reports, there is a massive internal displacement from western to northern Tigray. More than 25,000 Ethiopians have crossed into Sudan so far.”

He also said, “we are equally alarmed by the increasing insecurity in western and southern Oromia province, as well as in the eastern Benishangul Gumuz region,” adding that “the protection of civilians and the adherence to International Humanitarian Law must be enforced as a priority by all parties.”

Dujarric said, “we call for humanitarian access and the resumption of telecommunication and basic supplies, including food, medicine and fuel for civilians in the Tigray region.”  

Fighting broke out on November 4 after fighters loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front allegedly attacked a Military base in Tigray region. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed claimed there was an attempt to loot weapons and equipment and he ordered airstrikes. The TPLF says this is a war against Tigray and its people.