Hundreds more refugees flee Sudan's Blue Nile for Ethiopia

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 28 October 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Aerial bombings in Sudan's Blue Nile state are driving a new wave of refugees into Ethiopia. In the last four days, nearly 2,000 Sudanese refugees have arrived in western Ethiopia amid tightening security at the border area of Kurmuk. Kurmuk, one of several refugee entry points into the country is also considered to be the busiest.

The new arrivals are mostly women, children and the elderly. They tell us they fled bombings and fear of bombings by Antonov planes in areas including Bau, Sali and Dinduro, all located between Kurmuk and the Blue Nile capital, Damazine. There are also reports that armed militia on the Sudanese side of the Kurmuk border have warned the community to leave the area, possibly in preparation for a ground offensive.

Some of the new arrivals said they had been walking for up to three weeks. One man arrived with shrapnel wounds and was taken to a hospital in nearby Assosa. Other refugees said they lived for several weeks in the bushes in Dinduro, which had been occupied by armed groups, before making the 64-km journey to Kurmuk. Refugees from an area called Derring reported abductions of women and girls six weeks ago by armed militia, and that two girls died after being raped repeatedly.

With the current situation in Blue Nile, more refugees are expected to arrive in Ethiopia. Refugees are being encouraged to relocate to Tongo camp, about 200 km from Kurmuk. Others are at the Sherkole camp, or among host communities near the border. We estimate that 28,700 refugees have fled Blue Nile state since fighting began in early September.

UNHCR is working with the Ethiopian authorities to expand Tongo camp in anticipation of a further influx. With ongoing construction Tongo will be able to host some 7,000 refugees. Together with its government counterpart, the Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) and the President of the Benishangul-Gumuz Regional State, UNHCR is investigating the feasibility of additional camp sites.

UNHCR has appealed for US$10 million to meet the urgent needs of refugees from Blue Nile State and to support Ethiopia at a time when it is also hosting more than 174,000 Somali refugees (90,000 of whom arrived this year). So far we have received five percent, or US$500,000 for the Sudan emergency, and urge the international community to step up their response to this growing crisis.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In South Africa, Pumla Rulashe on mobile +27 82 377 5665

  • In Nairobi UNHCR regional office, Vivian Tan on mobile +254 705 620 408

  • In Geneva, Andrej Mahecic on mobile +41 79 200 7617