UN opens refugee camp in Ethiopia as violence continues in troubled Sudanese state

Sudanese refugees from Blue Nile state cross into western Ethiopia through the Kurmuk border crossing. Photo: UNHCR/P.Rulashe

7 October 2011 – The United Nations refugee agency has opened a new camp in western Ethiopia as hostilities in Sudan’s Blue Nile state continue to drive thousands to flee the country.

Adrian Edwards, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters today at a press briefing in Geneva that 533 refugees had already been moved to the new camp, located in the town of Tongo, from the border areas of Kurmuk, Bamza and Almahal.

Over the past month more than 27,500 people have fled Blue Nile to Ethiopia and South Sudan, amid fighting between the Sudanese army and rebels with the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N).

Mr. Edwards noted that while refugees had previously been mostly women and children, more men were arriving at the camps, bringing belongings such as livestock with them to help make a living in Ethiopia.

“At the beginning of the influx, the new arrivals were mainly women, children and the elderly – generally in good health. Men were staying behind to look after properties. Recently, however, UNHCR staff at the border points have seen larger numbers of men arriving, and more injuries.

“We had recent cases involving a young man who had sustained bullet wounds, and a woman injured by shrapnel. Another man had lost his legs in a bomb explosion. All three were taken to the UNHCR health centre in Sherkole camp for treatment,” he said.

The new camp has a capacity for 3,000 people and has the possibility of being expanded if necessary. The other main camp in the area, at Sherkole, reached its full capacity on Tuesday, already holding 8,702 people.

UNHCR is currently working with Ethiopia and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to speed up the moving of refugees to safer locations. Mr. Edwards said that UNHCR is planning to move around 400 refugees daily from the border to Tongo, where the agency and its partners are providing water and sanitation, food, shelter and immunization for children.


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