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UN High Commissioner for Refugees calls for support for Sudan as it hosts Ethiopia refugees

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UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grande meets refugees from Ethiopia in the Hamdayet Border Reception Centre in Eastern Sudan. © UNHCR/Will Swanson

High Commissioner also launched an appeal for nearly US$150 million to help the government of Sudan look after the refugees.

By Dana Hughes in Hamdayet, Sudan

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi on Sunday called for international support for Sudan as the country takes in more than 43,000 refugees who have fled fighting in neighbouring Ethiopia in recent weeks.

Grandi said the decision by the government in Khartoum to receive the refugees, almost half of whom are children, was an example to the international community but the country needed help to bear the additional responsibility.

People from the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia have fled to the Hamdayet border point in eastern Sudan as well as to two other frontier points, one in Kassala State and the other at Lugdi in Gedaref state.

“The best tradition of African and Sudanese hospitality”

But the Khartoum government has identified the Um Raquba site, around 70 km west of the border, as a location for refugees to receive assistance in greater safety. Around 10,000 refugees have already been transported there.

“The government of Sudan has kept the border open in the best tradition of African and Sudanese hospitality and I want to commend it as an example to the international community. But the government of Sudan needs a lot of help,” he said.

He appealed for US$ 147 million over the next six months for UNHCR, the UN and humanitarian community to Sudan manage the crisis.

“I am here also to help mobilize assistance for food, for water, for medicines and for shelter,” he said.

Grandi was speaking in Hamdayet on a visit over four days to the country during which he met Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and other government officials in Khartoum. He also spoke to refugees at the hot and dusty frontier with Ethiopia where they are coming across. Many said they wanted to return home as soon as it was safe.

UNHCR has already begun aid flights from its global stockpile in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to Sudan to deliver blankets, solar lamps, mosquito nets, plastic sheets, tents and prefabricated warehouses for the refugees.

“This is a very stressful year”

Grandi called for mediation to end the conflict, echoing appeals by UN Secretary General António Guterres and the African Union. He also said he was worried about the situation facing almost 100,000 refugees from Eritrea who are hosted by Ethiopia in the Tigray region.

“Ethiopia is a very hospitable country for refugees, but now they are caught in this conflict, we don’t have access to them,” he said.

Refugees said they were fleeing the conflict but also feared intercommunal violence.

Berhane, 31, fled his home in the Tigrayan town of Humera last week and came to Sudan. The geography teacher said this year was difficult even before the start of the fighting because his school had closed down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

His wife, also a teacher, had lost her job when schools closed and was away visiting family so he had now lost touch with her. Their daughter said she missed her mother but was hopeful that the family would be reunited.

Berhane’s mother, Koros, cried as she described fleeing after she heard gunshots and the sound of bombs earlier this month.

“This year is a very stressful year because the coronavirus has its own impact in our daily life, in our economy, in our mental health and then this war also broke out,” Berhane said. “So those things mixed together makes us more stressed.”

Family tracing services have been established and these have already reunited many separated refugees.