The United Nation is rushing to provide life-saving aid to more than 20,000 refugees who have fled violence in Ethiopia’s Benishangul Gumuz region, and is urgently calling for additional resources as it struggles with a significant funding gap.
The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday that the region has been marred by violence since December. It hosts more than 70,000 Sudanese and South Sudanese refugees and over 500,000 internally displaced Ethiopians.
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“UNHCR is working with the Ethiopian Government’s Refugee and Returnees Service and partners to provide the most urgent assistance to displaced refugees, including hot meals, clean water, and medical care,” agency spokesman Boris Cheshirkov told journalists at a regular press briefing in Geneva.
The latest fighting broke out on January 18 in the Ethiopian town of Tongo, reportedly between unidentified armed groups and federal forces, the UN said in a statement. A nearby camp hosting 10,300 refugees was looted and burned. The attack followed the looting of another camp in late December, the agency added.
All humanitarian staff had to evacuate, and the area including two camps – Tongo and Gure-Shembola – remains inaccessible, according to UNHCR.
“After the violence erupted, more than 20,000 refugees made their way over long distances to three different sites closer to Assosa, the regional capital, arriving exhausted and in need of assistance,” said Cheshirkov.
Cheshirkov said the UN has also recorded the arrival of 70 Sudanese refugees, mostly women and children, who fled the camps and returned to Sudan’s Blue Nile state.
He added that the clashes in the Benishangul Gumuz were unrelated to the conflict in the Tigray region.
UNHCR’s Ethiopia operation has received 9 percent of the required $335m for the year, according to the agency.