Since early November, a full-scale humanitarian crisis has been unfolding in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. More than 45,000 people have sought refuge in neighboring Sudan and another 100,000 have been displaced from their homes but remain inside the country. The vast majority are undertaking perilous journeys to reach safety, carrying just a few of their belongings with them.
When did the crisis in the Tigray region start?
The armed conflict broke out on November 4 between the federal government and regional forces, driving thousands of people to flee their homes - more than half of them women and children.
Electricity, phone and internet have been cut off. Food and fuel is scarce. The Ethiopian government announced a six-month state of emergency in Tigray.
Who is most affected by the crisis in the Tigray region?
The Tigray region in Northern Ethiopia is home to approximately 6.5 million people, the majority of them farmers who were at the peak of the harvest season when the conflict sparked. Over the past weeks, they have been forced to cross the border to Sudan to escape violence and another 100,000 people have been displaced inside the country.
There are also more than 96,000 Eritrean refugees sheltered in four refugee camps in the western part of the Tigray region (Shimelba, MaiAinim Adi-Harush and Hitsats) who have been cut off from food and relief supplies and are at heightened risk of hunger and malnutrition. Blocked roads and limited communications make it difficult to verify current conditions in the camps.
Where are Ethiopian refugees crossing the border?
Hundreds of Ethiopians are crossing the Sudanese border on a daily basis mainly through Hamdayet border point in Kassala state. But new arrivals are outpacing infrastructure needs. For example, the transit center at Hamdayet has the capacity to host just 300 refugees and has received more than 20,000 people.
Many of the arrivals at these crossing points don’t want to move far away from border areas because they are waiting for missing family members they were separated from during the flight and, if the situation allows, they would like to return home to take care of their fields in the upcoming harvest season.
What are the major challenges refugees face?
Overcrowding, lack of access to basic services and humanitarian aid deliveries are some of the top priorities in the Tigray region. Conditions in the region are becoming more difficult by the day as travel restrictions, fuel shortages and the natural difficulties of the terrain are preventing aid organizations from reaching refugee camps and border areas, leaving thousands of vulnerable people without adequate support.
Humanitarian organizations have reported power outages and shortages of food and cash, and approximately 96,000 refugees risk lack of access to water due to a potential shortage of fuel used to run water pumps.
How is the UN Refugee Agency helping in Ethiopia’s Tigray region?
The UN Refugee Agency is working with government authorities and local partners to provide lifesaving assistance to the thousands of Ethiopian women, children and men arriving to the border in search of safety. Shelter, food and water as well as other relief items - including blankets, sleeping mats, solar lamps, mosquito nets and plastic sheeting are being distributed. Information campaigns on COVID-19 prevention, health screening of new arrivals as well as the distribution of soap and 50,000 face masks have also started at border entry points.
UNHCR is also helping register new arrivals in transit centers near the border and has relocated nearly 10,000 refugees to a new camp at Um Raquba in Sudan while additional sites are identified. Family tracing services have also been established to help reunite families.
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