Ethiopian refugees cross the border into Hamdayet, Sudan, leaving the Tekeze River in the background (Photo: UNHCR)
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Refugee Agency, on Thursday said the number of Ethiopian refugees fleeing to neighbouring Sudan surpassed 31,000 amid the ongoing fighting between the Ethiopian federal government and the Northern Tigray regional state.
"As of today morning, over 31,000 refugees have fled Ethiopia's Tigray region to seek safety in Sudan," the UNHCR said on Thursday.
"The UNHCR and partners are doing their best to address immediate needs, but urgently need support to be able to support the (Sudanese) government in managing the situation," it added.
Ethiopia has already established a committee to address humanitarian concern in the country's restive northern Tigray regional state, said Redwan Hussein, spokesman of a newly-established State of Emergency Task Force for the Tigray conflict, on Monday.
Since the early hours of Nov. 4, the Ethiopian government has been undertaking military operations against the TPLF, which rules over Ethiopia's northernmost Tigray regional state.
The federal government's operation followed the TPLF's attack on the Northern command base of the Ethiopian Defense Force, a division stationed in the region for over two decades and based in Mekelle city, capital of Tigray region.
Amid the ongoing fighting, the UNHCR had warned that a full-scale humanitarian crisis is unfolding as thousands of refugees flee each day amid ongoing conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray region to seek safety in Sudan.
A statement from the UN refugee agency, which quoted UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch, said that women, men and children have been crossing the border at the rate of 4,000 per day since November 10, rapidly overwhelming the humanitarian response capacity on the ground.
The UNHCR is presently supporting the Sudanese government in its response, ramping up humanitarian assistance at the borders as the needs continue to grow.
The World Food Programme (WFP) is also presently providing food and high protein biscuits. Hot meals are being provided by Muslim Aid.
"There is a critical need to identify more sites so that refugees can be relocated away from the border and can access assistance and services," the agency said.
The UNHCR and partners are now on standby to provide assistance to the displaced in Tigray, including basic items, when access and security allow.
In addition to Ethiopians fleeing to Sudan as well as internally displaced people, the UNHCR also warned that the ongoing conflict is also a major ongoing concern for the Eritrean refugee population of nearly 100,000 in Tigray, who are reliant on assistance from UNHCR and partners.
The Ethiopian government had on Wednesday announced the capture of strategic areas from the TPLF fighters in different directions across the restive Tigray regional state.
"The Ethiopian National Defense Forces have registered crucial wins across different towns and areas in the Western and Eastern fronts," the state of emergency task force, established by the federal government to watch over the ongoing military operations against the TPLF, said in a statement.
The Ethiopian government also disclosed that its forces are now on course to the regional capital, Mekelle, where many believe senior TPLF leaders are presently stationed.
According to the statement, on the Eastern front, the Ethiopian National Defense Forces have controlled Raya, while on the Western front they have captured Shire and are presently heading to Axum, one of Ethiopia's UNESCO ascribed historical cities.
The mounting disputes between the federal government and the TPLF were exacerbated in September this year, when the Tigray regional government decided to go ahead with its planned regional elections, which the Ethiopian parliament had previously postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.