Tigray official denies Mekelle has been surrounded, saying troops could not ‘move an inch for more than one week’.
A refugee camp housing Ethiopian refugees in a remote part of neighbouring Sudan is already over capacity, the United Nations’s refugee agency has said.
The Umm Rakouba camp – meant to house 5,000 refugees fleeing violence in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region – has now almost doubled that capacity, Mohammed Rafik Nasri, field coordinator for emergency response at the UNHCR said on Friday.
Nasri said catering for this number of people has been difficult – a concern aid agencies had been raising since violence in Tigray forced tens of thousands of people to flee Ethiopia earlier this month.
“This camp is almost two weeks old, you know it is challenging in Sudan because of fuel shortage, economic situation and honestly the partners, UNHCR and our allies, including WFP and all of us, it is challenging us to provide shelter materials, food, to get them quickly,” said Nasri.
As he spoke, a convoy of 1,000 people started to arrive in buses after a long journey from transit centres at the Ethiopia-Sudan border.
More than 40,000 people have arrived in Sudan since the violence started on November 4, while the UN estimates the number could go up to 200,000 in the next six months.
The organisation is working to open another camp soon to help lift the burden off Umm Rakouba and other border sites.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Thursday said the army has been ordered to move on Tigray’s regional capital, Makelle, after his 72-hour ultimatum ended for the Tigrayan leaders to surrender.
He warned the city’s half a million residents to stay indoors and disarm as his forces prepared for a “final phase” of the Tigray offensive.
For refugees in the camp, news is scarce of what is happening at home. Farmers Hedgay Kahsey and Atsbaha Gtsadik said they only wanted one thing.
“Whatever happens, we just want peace,” said Hedgay Kahsey who lost all his belongings, including his farm and livestock.
“The country has no peace. It makes me so sad … You see one tribe killing another. It is so hard,” added Atsbaha Gtsadik.
Meanwhile, food and other supplies are running out in the Tigray region of 6 million people as the UN continues to urge immediate access for aid workers.
Ethiopia’s government said a “humanitarian access route” would open under the management of the country’s ministry of peace, with no details.
With communications and transport links severed, it remains difficult to verify claims about the fighting between Ethiopian forces and the forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which once dominated Ethiopia’s government but has been sidelined under Abiy’s rule. The two governments now regard each other as illegal.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people have been killed. The fighting threatens to destabilise Ethiopia, and even other nations in the Horn of Africa region.
Abiy, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, has rejected international “interference”.