‘Full-scale’ humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ethiopia – UN

Some 4,000 refugees a day fleeing heavy fighting in Tigray region

A major humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Ethiopia, the United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday, with more than 27,000 people now having fled heavy fighting to Sudan.

The pace of the exodus, some 4,000 a day, may also indicate huge uprooting of people within the Tigray region, UN agencies said, adding that teams on the ground were overwhelmed.

"People are coming out of Ethiopia really scared, afraid, with stories saying they have been fleeing heavy fighting and there's no sign of the fighting stopping," said Babar Baloch, spokesman of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed warned on Tuesday that a deadline for rebel northern forces to lay down arms had expired, paving the way for a push on the Tigray region's capital in the two-week conflict destabilising the Horn of Africa.


“The final critical act of law enforcement will be done in the coming days,” he said.

Mr Abiy, Africa’s youngest leader and the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, launched air strikes and a ground offensive on November 4th after accusing former comrades and the local ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), of armed revolt.

Tigrayan leaders say Mr Abiy (44), who comes from the largest ethnic group, the Oromo, has persecuted and purged them from government and security positions since taking office in 2018. Tigrayan forces have fired rockets into the neighbouring nation of Eritrea, escalating a conflict that has already killed hundreds – one diplomatic source says thousands – and sent about 30,000 refugees into Sudan.

Refugee crisis

Sudan already hosts nearly one million refugees including those who have fled conflict and poverty in Chad, Eritrea, Central African Republic and South Sudan.

“UNHCR is warning that a full-scale humanitarian crisis is unfolding as thousands of refugees flee ongoing fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region each day to seek safety in eastern Sudan,” Mr Baloch said. The agency was on standby to provide assistance in Tigray when access and security allowed, he added.

Jens Laerke, spokesman of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said: "There may be massive displacement inside Tigray and that is of course a concern and we try to prepare the best way possible."

Mr Baloch repeated concerns for tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees settled in Ethiopia, saying that clashes had occurred near one of the settlements, but that poor communications were complicating aid efforts.

The creation of a humanitarian corridor is a priority, added Mr Laerke, saying negotiations were ongoing. “We are in continuous contact with the federal government and relevant regional authorities.”

A World Food Programme official said it was operating humanitarian flights daily to Kassala in eastern Sudan and could deploy helicopters to reach isolated groups. It had already delivered more than a tonne of food to a Sudanese site – enough to support 60,000 people for a month.