Ethiopia Fighting Leaves Sudan Hosting Refugees It Can’t Support

Fears that a civil war raging in neighboring Ethiopia’s northern Tigray Region will reverberate across eastern Africa are playing out in Sudan, which is contending with a massive influx of refugees who’ve fled the fighting.

More than 40,000 people have streamed across the border from Tigray into eastern Sudan since Nov. 7, the United Nations said on Tuesday. Sudan itself is seeking to rebuild its shattered economy after conflict in the Darfur region and the overthrow of Omar al-Bashir last year, and lacks the resources to meet their basic needs.

“Sudan won’t be able to manage and finance the response to this disaster alone,” said Alsir Khalid, the Sudanese aid commissioner for the eastern Kassala state. “We’re asking for the international community to help Sudan as it keeps its border open to the Tigray people.”

Ethiopia Fighting Leaves Sudan Hosting Refugees It Can’t Support

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered soldiers into Tigray after months of tensions, accusing the state’s ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front of attacking an army base. Tigrayan authorities say the fighting has displaced 100,000 people and the United Nations has warned that an additional 1.1 million people may need aid.

Refugees have crossed into Sudan’s Kassala, Gedaref, and Blue Nile states and their total numbers could surge to 100,000 within six months if fighting persists, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned. They are being temporarily housed at reception points before being relocated to sites where they are given food, blankets and materials to construct shelters.

Surge Warning

Gado Gabir Hawari was among those who abandoned her home to escape the fighting. She walked for four days from her home in Tigray before crossing the Setit river into Sudan and became separated from her husband and three of her children along the way.

“I still don’t know where they are,” the sobbing 40-year-old said as she held her two small children at Village 8, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the border. “The Ethiopian army attacked us from all directions, using warplanes and heavy weapons, including tanks and artilleries,” she said, echoing other accounts of intense fighting and civilian casualties.

Sudan was engulfed in civil war for two decades before a 2005 peace deal that partitioned the country six years later. It’s among the world’s poorest nations, ranking 168th out of 189 countries on the UN Development Program’s human development index.

The U.S. is doing all it can to help Sudan cope with the refugees crisis and to continue its development, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Tibor Nagy said in a call with reporters last week.

It’s unclear how long Ethiopia’s conflict will last, with Abiy’s government and the Tigrayan leaders giving wildly differing views.

While the prime minister has assured international leaders it will end soon, the region’s President Debretsion Gebremichael says his forces have suffered minimal losses and are confident of defending the capital, Mekelle.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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