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Horn of Africa: humanitarian situation in Eritrea worsens

Briefing notes

Horn of Africa: humanitarian situation in Eritrea worsens

6 June 2000

UNHCR in Asmara reports that the humanitarian situation in Eritrea has worsened over the past week, with new population displacements occurring in the southern Red Sea districts around Assab. A new outflow into eastern Sudan has also been reported by UNHCR in Khartoum. In eastern Eritrea, reported fighting around the port of Assab sent many displaced people moving north. The huge number of internally displaced throughout Eritrea is also having an impact on the general population in many areas. UNHCR Asmara reports that the condition of many IDPs is worsening despite efforts by the local population and aid agencies to help them. Thousands of people are reported living in dry riverbeds and anywhere they can find a bit of shade to escape temperatures that daily soar to over 40 degrees Celsius. UNHCR in Eritrea is purchasing salt, sanitary supplies, kitchen sets, bedding and other relief items on the local market for distribution by the end of this week. UNHCR is also preparing an airlift of non-food relief items directly to Eritrea, including water tankers and additional trucks from our operation in Kosovo. The airlift to Eritrea could begin as early as next week. We fear that reports of continued fighting and the heavy destruction already inflicted in many areas have greatly diminished the chances of an early return home for many of the displaced.

In eastern Sudan, UNHCR staff report that shelling was visible Monday morning on the other side of the border in south-western Eritrea and that the fighting had triggered a large new outflow into the border area around Gulsa and Lafa. The arrivals included at least two wounded civilians, the first we've encountered so far. By last night, 1,796 new arrivals had reached Gulsa and 1,102 at Lafa.

We're still waiting to hear arrival figures from other border crossings. We also expect that there could have been many more arrivals overnight because many people would not travel during the daytime because of the extreme temperatures. In all, UNHCR in Sudan has registered more than 55,000 arrivals from Eritrea since the fighting erupted in mid-May.

UNHCR's third relief flight to Sudan arrived today with 4,500 plastic sheets and 12,000 blankets. The next flight is expected on Thursday.

Sudanese officials in Kassala have also agreed to the transfer of some 10,000 new arrivals currently at a makeshift encampent in Gergef to an established UNHCR camp in Shagarab, about 65 km away. The transfer is expected to begin tomorrow (Wednesday).