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Eritrea: thousands more pour into Sudan

Briefing notes

Eritrea: thousands more pour into Sudan

30 May 2000

Thousands of new Eritrean refugees Monday poured across the Sudanese border to Lafa, arriving on foot, donkey carts and trucks and tractors which shuttled them away from villages in western Eritrea that had reportedly been taken by Ethiopian troops.

UNHCR staff in Lafa this morning reported that the numbers crossing dwindled overnight, but that small groups were still arriving. They estimate that the total for the previous 24-hour period could reach 10,000.

Refugees arriving in Lafa told UNHCR that Ethiopian troops now controlled the town of Tesseney, 30 km from the Sudanese border. Most said there had been no fighting for the town, although others reported artillery fire nearby. None of the arrivals Monday was injured. Refugees said that Ethiopian troops checked the identification papers of those who streamed out of the Tesseney area, apparently looking for soldiers, but otherwise did not stop or harass people taking to the road. Most of those crossing into Sudan Monday were children and women, although there were also significant numbers of men.

The latest arrivals are exhausted and badly in need of water and food. Temperatures in the arid border region soar past 40º Celsius during the day.

One 45-year old man died yesterday shortly after crossing at a point called Deman, near Umsafir.

UNHCR and partners are now operating 14 water tankers between Kassala town and the border sites, and health posts are manned by MSF-Holland, the Islamic African Relief Association and the Sudanese Red Cross.

UNHCR dispatched another 700 tents and 400 jerry cans to the sites yesterday and is purchasing 5,000 jerry cans and more than 40,000 bars of soap from local suppliers. We will begin airlifting additional shelter material from our emergency stocks in Copenhagen tomorrow.

The fall of Tesseney was confirmed by a member of the Eritrean refugee commission who travelled there yesterday and returned to Sudan with his family. The towns of Talatashar, 13 km inside the border, and El Kdir, east of Tesseney on the main road to Asmara, were also reported to be in Ethiopian hands.

Both Eritrean and Sudanese vehicles have been shuttling refugees across the border as word of the recent Ethiopian advance spread. On Sunday, 10 Sudanese trucks brought Eritreans from the towns of Gerghef (on the Eritrean side) and Gurji to Gerghef in Sudan. They are charging fees for the transfer.

The 600 UNHCR tents set up at Amara Musa, the site 2 km from Lafa selected by local Sudanese authorities, are now all occupied. The site is urgently being expanded to accommodate the new arrivals, who are camping in the scrub just inside the border. In addition to a few dozen Ethiopians who have crossed into the Kassala area with the Eritrean refugees, UNHCR has registered a small number of Ethiopians who crossed overland to Port Sudan. We are working with Ethiopian officials to help them return to their country.