The United Nations said on Tuesday it had begun moving some of the more than 56,000 Ethiopian refugees in Sudan to a newly-opened camp, with the existing facility nearly full.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, said tents to shelter up to 5,000 people have so far been set up at the new Tunaydbah camp. More were to be pitched in the coming days.
Since Sunday, 580 Ethiopian refugees have been transferred to the camp and given a hot meal on arrival, a UNHCR spokesman told reporters in Geneva.
Refugees are continuing to flee the unrest in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, with 800 having crossed the border with eastern Sudan since the New Year.
“Latest arrivals tell of being caught in the conflict and being victims of various armed groups, facing perilous situations including looting of their houses, forceful recruitment of men and boys, and sexual violence against women and girls,” said spokesman Andrej Mahecic.
“Refugees are arriving with little more than the clothes on their backs, fatigued and in weak conditions after sometimes days of travel.”
He said more than 30 percent of the refugees were estimated to be aged under 18, while five percent were over 60.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered troops into Tigray on November 4 following alleged attacks by Tigray People’s Liberation Front forces on federal military camps there.
Abiy, who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, claimed victory on November 28. However, the TPLF has vowed to fight on and the UN says clashes persist.
The Um Raquba camp in eastern Sudan is approaching capacity.
UNHCR and its partners relocated 580 Ethiopian refugees from a reception site to Tunaydbah to keep them safe and offer better conditions, said Mahecic.
The spokesman said more funding was needed to sustain the camps, especially with the rainy season expected to start in May.
Some $40 million has been pledged to UNHCR for the regional response to the Tigray emergency, covering only 37 percent of the estimated financial requirements.
“It is critical to further improve water and sanitation conditions in the refugee camps and reception areas, as well as to ramp up Covid-19 prevention measures, including isolation facilities,” said Mahecic.
Before the conflict broke out, some 96,000 Eritrean refugees, many of whom fled neighbouring Eritrea’s authoritarian government, were living in four camps in Tigray.
Mahecic said agencies had reached some parts of southern Tigray but were still unable to reach sites in the north.
“We still are asking for full and unfettered access to the entire region,” he said.