Horn of Africa Update
Some 17,000 Eritrean refugees have arrived along the Sudanese border fleeing fighting between Eritrean and Ethiopian forces, according to UNHCR staff in Sudan and government officials. More refugees are reported to be heading toward Sudan and the number of arrivals is expected to rise.
On Saturday, the Interior Ministry said 4,000 Eritreans had entered Sudan through Gerghef and were reportedly proceeding toward Kasha El Girba, one of 12 UNHCR refugee camps in the area.
UNHCR staff in Sudan reported that as of noon Friday, between 5,000 and 7,500 Eritreans had crossed into Lofa, 29 km east of the Sudanese border town of Kassala.
Most of the arrivals, mainly from Tesseney in Eritrea, were women, children and elderly. They appeared healthy, including those who walked to the area for three days. Many came on donkeys, camels, bicycles and tractor- trailers. Driving to the border 3 km away, the UNHCR staff saw about 100 Eritreans heading for Lofa.
At nearby Gulsa to the north, Sudanese authorities said they had registered 3,750 Eritrean arrivals who were then provided relief and shelter in government buildings, Most of these people came on foot. Some proceeded farther on inside Sudan. The Sudanese Red Cross also reported more than 1,000 arrivals at the Awad crossing, but UNHCR was unable to confirm the figure.
The arrivals at Lofa indicated they did not want to proceed to Kassala, preferring to stay to stay in the open fields and wait and see what happens in Tesseney. They said there had been no fighting in Tesseney but that people there feared an Ethiopian attack. Tesseney has a population of 20,000. One arrival said the displaced from other areas would have gone to Tesseney had the Ethiopians not sealed off the road from Barentu, about 100 kms to the east.
A multi-agency relief effort has been mobilized to meet the needs of the arrivals in a region that has no vegetation and is extremely hot at this time of year. UNHCR is sending tents for 10,000 people and medicine from its stock in Sudan. Food also is being trucked to the area from Kassala.
The Eritrean government has announced that 500,000 people have been forced out of their homes following an Ethiopian offensive into Eritrea.
UNHCR staff in Asmara have had no access to the displaced people in Eritrea, but Asmara itself appears calm.
The government has requested UNHCR's stocks of relief items, as well as supplies from other UN agencies for distribution to war-affected population.
UNHCR has pre-positioned stocks in Eritrea for its repatriation programme for Eritreans who have been in Sudan for years.
The outbreak of heavy fighting between Eritrea and Ethiopia has set back a UNHCR repatriation programme for some 160,000 Eritrean refugees who have remained in a dozen camps in Sudan despite the end in 1991 of the Eritrean liberation war.
Since 1991, some 150,000 Eritreans have returned to Eritrea from refugee camps in Sudan. Following an agreement among Sudan, Eritrea and UNHCR in April, a two-year programme was drawn up to bring home the remaining refugees in Sudan.
Around 9,000 refugees had registered to return overland and by sea from Port Sudan.