Horn of Africa Update
UNHCR has registered more than 18,000 of the estimated 20,000 Eritreans whom Sudanese officials and aid workers said had fled into Sudan since last Thursday ahead of advancing Ethiopian forces.
Although the influx into Sudan continues, refugees say that several thousand have gone back to Eritrea to await developments in their villages.
An Eritrean man in his 30s told UNHCR he was heading back to Talatashar, a village in Eritrea located 10 kms from a temporary camp at Laffa in Sudan. He was loading his belongings onto a truck Tuesday bound for Talatashar, from where he said he would follow the situation in his village farther east.
Many refugees at Laffa have not unpacked their belongings, piled high on wagons and carts. A number of refugees are gathered with their donkeys, goats and camels at the nearby entry point of Gulsa. There is a Sudanese ban on exporting female livestock and this may have contributed to indecision on whether to continue on to Sudan or remain along the Eritrean border.
But other refugees said they planned to proceed to one of about a dozen nearby camps UNHCR has maintained for Eritrean refugees for three decades. UNHCR's plans to begin repatriating 160,000 Eritreans in these camps have been set back by last week's Ethiopian push into Eritrea.
On Tuesday, UNHCR staff reported a movement of Eritreans entering and leaving Sudan. Most of the arrivals came from the Eritrean border town of Tesseney, which had a population of more than 20,000. People arriving over the weekend said Tesseney was empty.
At Gerghef, UNHCR reported scores of people were arriving on trucks and tractor-trailers from Omhajer, which the Ethiopians reportedly overran on Sunday. A UNHCR protection officer is seeking the release of a tractor Sudanese officials reportedly confiscated from an Eritrean on his arrival.
UNHCR staff at Harfit in Sudan found 200 arrivals from as far away as Barentu, 110 kms from the Sudan border, and Keren, 70 kms north-west of the Eritrean capital, Asmara.
UNHCR is preparing for the possible arrival in Sudan of up to 50,000 Eritreans. Over the weekend, it released $10,000 to dig latrines at Laffa. UNHCR has set up two water bladders at Gula and three trucks are delivering water there. Relief agencies are providing two more trucks for the operation in an arid region where temperatures soar to as high as 40 degrees during daytime.
UNHCR's programme to vaccinate arrivals against meningitis and polio is now in full swing in all three encampments, carried out by local NGOs. A majority of children and adults have been vaccinated in the three sites. UNHCR has so far distributed 800 jerry cans and another 1,000 are being sent today to Gulsa and 600 to Gerhef. Refugees have set up 400 tents UNHCR earlier distributed at Gerghef and 100 more are being dispatched there.
Eritrean officials have told UNHCR in Asmara that between 20,000 and 40,000 Eritreans are along the border with Sudan. They are prepared to move into Sudan if fighting spreads.
Eritrean officials say the current Ethiopian offensive has forced more than 500,000 from their homes. Another 300,000 Eritreans have been displaced by drought.
An inter-agency team visited one of the camps Tuesday for the displaced at Ziron just outside Keren town. The team reports that Ziron was crammed with 30,000 refugees and although the situation was stable there was an urgent need for water and high protein biscuits.
UNHCR's relief supplies intended for a repatriation programme for Eritreans who have spent years in the Sudan camps have been distributed to the displaced in Eritrea.