No fewer than 5,000 Ethiopians, including defecting soldiers, have fled into Sudan to escape the military offensive in the East African country’s northern Tigray region.
Al Sir Khalid, a commissioner for refugees in Sudan’s Kassala state, estimated that at least 20,000 refugees are expected to the cross the border into the neighbouring North African nation this week.
He said that some of the refugees had walked for two or three days to escape “bombardment”, and that some of them were Ethiopian soldiers.
Mr Khalid said that the border centre, which can accommodate only 300 persons, had been overwhelmed and he was “very worried about the situation”, adding that “the response is very slow, viable life-saving services are not there: no food, no shelter”.
He said NGOs and humanitarian organisations had responded to the refugee needs but more needed to be done.
Kassala State Secretary, Fateh al-Rahman al-Amin, said the region received thousands of Ethiopian refugees, families including women and children, and a number of fighters carrying weapons.
He confirmed his state and Gedaref state had decided to close their borders because they were worried fighting could spill over.
Reports quoting an unnamed source from the Sudanese armed forces said some 500 fighters from Ethiopia, mainly from its federal army, had fled to Sudan and surrendered.
Earlier, the UN refugee agency said they were working with the Sudanese government to help those arriving.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Ethiopia’s state-affiliated broadcaster reported Ethiopian army claims it has killed 500 members of the rebel Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
They also said they had seized a number of weapons including rocket-propelled grenades.
Last week, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced a military operation against the regional government of Tigray, accusing it of treason after its fighters seized a command centre hosting federal troops.
Mr Abiy, the winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, has sought to allay fears expressed by neighbouring countries that the operation could spill over beyond Ethiopian borders.
The UN and international community have expressed concern Ethiopia could descend into full-blown civil war after Abiy last week ordered a curfew and sent soldiers in to put down an alleged rebel uprising by the TPLF which is also the region’s ruling party.
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