The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has said that some 25,000 people have arrived in Ethiopia over the last three weeks to escape fighting between the Sudanese army and rebels in Blue Nile state.
UNHCR spokesperson, Adrian Edwards said, “Since 3 September, when the influx into Ethiopia started, an estimated 25,000 refugees have found refuge in Ethiopia.”
Fighting broke out between armed forces and a rebel group in Sudan’s Blue Nile state early September, after the SPLM-N refused to disarm.
After South Sudan seceded in July, the SPLM-N were supposed to disarm or move south of the new international border. A peace deal recognizing the SPLM-N as a legal political party was later rejected by Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party.
Some 3,000 refugees have been moved into existing Sherkole camp, where tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees who fled Sudan’s North-South civil war were sheltered.
Sudan’s second North-South civil war (1983-2005) ended with a peace deal that allowed South Sudan to secede through a referendum.
As the influx of refugees continues the Ethiopian government is constructing two transit centers near the key border entry points where newcomers are temporarily hosted.
Edwards said, “With hostilities still ongoing in Sudan’s Blue Nile State, we expect the numbers to continue rising.”
UNHCR said many of the Sudanese refugees are coming with their families and livestock.
A number of international aid groups along with UNHCR have dispatched emergency relief to western Ethiopia and to other villages along the entry border to assist arriving refugees.
The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, has been providing water and medical supplies while World Food Program is providing food items.
The UNHCR has appealed for $18.3 million to assist refugees from the troubled Blue Nile state.
According to UNHCR the number refugees fleeing to Ethiopia are expected to reach 35,000.
Meanwhile, a Sudanese bishop, Daniel Adwok has joined the growing calls for end to fighting in Sudan’s Blue Nile State.
Bishop Adwok, who is also coordinating an emergency aid to people fleeing the violence, said, “People are having to walk a long way to find safety. The only things they have are what they can carry. We need to pray for peace. We need to appeal for peace.”
UNHCR has sent and is sending out additional staff to the area to more effectively respond to the emergency. UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres called at the weekend for an immediate halt to the hostilities in Blue Nile state. “We need, at all costs, to stop yet one more refugee crisis in a region of the world that has been witnessing in recent months so much suffering,” said Guterres.