Horn of Africa Update
Some 20,000 Eritrean refugees have fled into Sudan since the middle of last week, crossing four entry points as Ethiopian forces pushed into Eritrea.
Aid workers said an estimated 5,000 Eritreans had crossed the Sudanese border into Gerghef and that more people were arriving at noon Sunday from Tesseney in Eritrea just across the border from eastern Sudan.
The latest arrivals said that Tesseney, which had a population of more than 20,000 people, was practically empty.
Additional reports from Sudanese officials and aid agencies showed an estimated 10,000 Eritreans had arrived at Lofa, 4,000 at Gulsa and 1,000 at Awad.
UNHCR staff are registering the arrivals in these areas and expect to come up with a more accurate count.
In Khartoum, government officials on Sunday said they would authorize NGOs which have been involved mainly with locally displaced people since 1996 to join the UNHCR relief effort for the newly arrived Eritreans along the border. UNHCR has operated a dozen refugee camps for Eritreans in Sudan for nearly three decades.
UNHCR and other aid agencies have begun moving urgently needed medicine, food, high protein biscuits and tents for the arrivals.
At Lofa, UNHCR has started to put in place sanitation facilities and is sending out water tankers. Sudanese officials have also identified a camp site nearby to accommodate the refugees at both Lofa and Gulsa, a region where there is no vegetation and where it is extremely hot during this time of year.
Most of the early arrivals came on trucks, cars, carts, camels and donkeys, carrying all sorts of belongings. But those arriving in the last 24 hours at Gerghef came mostly on foot and told UNHCR staff they had been walking for three days. Most appeared in good health, although exhausted. The initial departures from Eritrea looked orderly. But there were also a few unaccompanied children and several mothers said they got separated from their families, indicating a hasty flight in some cases.
Although the government had earlier said some Eritrean soldiers were among the civilians and that they were being disarmed, UNHCR staff and Sudanese officials have so far seen no sign of soldiers among the latest arrivals.
UNHCR staff in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, are attempting to gain access to more than 500,000 people displaced in the Ethiopian offensive. The Eritrean government has requisitioned UNHCR relief items intended for a repatriation programme for Eritreans who have been in Sudan for years.
A UNHCR repatriation programme for some 160,000 Eritreans who have remained in about a dozen camps in Sudan despite the end of the 1991 Eritrean war for independence has been set back following the outbreak of fighting between Eritrea and Ethiopia last week.