UNHCR on security alert, helps displaced people in western Ethiopia

Hundreds of people have been displaced by ethnic clashes in Gambella, including 350 women and children now receiving UNHCR assistance at a local church. Meanwhile, UNHCR's compound in Fugnido camp has been hit by a grenade, but no one was hurt.

  © UNHCR/Geographic Information and Mapping Unit

GAMBELLA, Ethiopia, Dec 17 (UNHCR) - Recent clashes in a refugee-hosting part of western Ethiopia have forced hundreds of people to flee their homes and put the UN refugee agency on security alert in nearby camps.

The situation remains tense in Gambella town, western Ethiopia, four days after the ambush and murder of a group that included three workers from UNHCR's governmental partner, the Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA). Saturday's attack unleashed a wave of ethnic violence that left some 30 people dead.

On Wednesday, Gambella's shops and markets reopened but banks and offices remained closed. The bus station was overcrowded with people desperate to leave the town.

To help people displaced by the fighting, the UN refugee agency has donated relief items to the Catholic church in Gambella, where some 350 women and children have sought refuge. Among the items are plastic sheeting to cover their huts, blankets, jerry cans and kitchen sets.

Meanwhile, in Fugnido refugee camp 100 km away, a hand grenade was thrown into the UNHCR/ARRA compound on Tuesday evening, but no one was hurt. Staff from UNHCR and partner agencies arriving in Gambella from Fugnido earlier on Tuesday had reported that the situation in Fugnido town and camp was calm but tense.

Fugnido camp itself was the scene of ethnic clashes about a year ago, when 107 Sudanese refugees were killed in a running conflict between the Anuaks, Nuers and Dinkas. Tensions were also linked to the refugees' affiliations with various factions of the anti-Khartoum Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

Ethiopia's Gambella region hosts a total of 85,000 Sudanese refugees in five camps and settlements. Fugnido camp is the largest, with more than 28,000 people.