Some 2,000 Sudanese refugees flee bombing raids in Blue Nile state
ASSOSA, Ethiopia, October 28 (UNHCR) - Air attacks this week in Sudan's Blue Nile state have driven almost 2,000 Sudanese civilians to cross the border and seek shelter in the Kurmuk area of western Ethiopia.
UNHCR staff based in the town of Assosa said the new arrivals were 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," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said on Friday.
There are reports that militia on the Sudanese side of the Kurmuk border have warned the community to leave the area, possibly in preparation for a ground offensive. Kurmuk is the busiest crossing in the east and thousands of Sudanese have crossed there since the fighting in Blue Nile state flared early last month.
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 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-kilometre journey to Kurmuk.
Refugees from an area called Derring reported abductions of women and girls six weeks ago by armed militia, and said that two girls died after being raped repeatedly.
"With the current situation in Blue Nile, more refugees are expected to arrive in Ethiopia," Edwards said. Refugees are being encouraged to relocate to the recently opened Tongo camp, about 200 kms inland 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," Edwards added.
UNHCR is working with the Ethiopian authorities to expand Tongo camp in anticipation of a further influx. With continuing 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," Edwards said.