20,000 refugees from Sudan's Blue Nile State in Ethiopia, numbers rising

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

A UNHCR assessment team returned yesterday from the Assosa region of western Ethiopia, where refugees have been arriving since late last week amid fighting across the border in Sudan's Blue Nile State. The refugee population has swollen to around 20,000 people, and as our team was there more were arriving.

The new arrivals have been crossing into Ethiopia mainly through Kurmuk and Gizen, near Sherkole, some 770 kms west of Addis Ababa. Others are crossing through Bamaza, further north.

Generally, the physical state of the refugees appears good but they need food, water, and shelter. Some, in the Gizen area, are occupying schools while others are scattered in nearby villages with local families. Those willing to be relocated are being moved to an existing refugee camp at Sherkole. However, most are reluctant to go and prefer to stay near the border, hoping that fighting will die down soon and allow them to return home.

The first movements of people into the Sherkole camp started on Saturday. The camp was first opened in 1997 in response to the North-South Sudanese civil war. So far, 2,500 refugees have been transferred there.

UNHCR has dispatched emergency relief items to Assosa and more supplies are on the way from Addis to assist those at Sherkole and in villages along the border. UNICEF is providing water bladders and medical supplies while WFP is sending food urgently to the area.

Sherkole, which already accommodates some 4,000 Sudanese refugees, can take in a further 6,000 refugees. The Ethiopian government has allocated three new sites at Tongo, Bambasi and Gure, not very far from Sherkole, to accommodate the new arrivals, each with a capacity to accommodate 10,000 refugees. UNHCR has started preparing the sites to receive new arrivals.

UNHCR has sent and is sending out additional staff to the area to more effectively respond to the emergency. Before the emergency occurred Ethiopia has been accommodating more than 26,000 Sudanese refugees in two camps.

Meanwhile in Sudan, we have received reports of tens of thousands of people having fled within Blue Nile State and northwards to Sennar State. We cannot independently confirm the numbers as so far only the Sudanese Red Crescent Society has access to the displaced. They have been able to do an initial assessment and provide limited assistance to the displaced population, although, a number of areas between the towns of Damazine and Kurmuk are not accessible.

UNHCR reiterates its call to both the Sudan government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North to end the fighting and allow access for humanitarian staff to address any urgent life-saving needs. We are also calling on both parties to ensure the protection of humanitarian workers and their assets, including warehouses where vital aid has been stored.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Kenya, Nairobi UNHCR regional office: Andrej Mahecic on mobile +254 734 330 023
  • In Ethiopia, Kisut Gebre Egziabher on mobile +251 911 208 901
  • In Geneva, Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 34 83