Sudan braces for up to 200,000 fleeing Ethiopia fighting

As many as 200,000 refugees could pour into Sudan while fleeing the deadly conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, officials say, as more than 8,000 people have already crossed the border.

Long lines have appeared outside bread shops in the Tigray region, and supply-laden trucks are stranded at its borders, the United Nations humanitarian chief in the country said.

“We want to have humanitarian access as soon as possible,” Sajjad Mohammad Sajid said. “Fuel and food are needed urgently.”

Up to two million people in Tigray have a “very, very difficult time”, he said late on Tuesday, including hundreds of thousands of displaced people.

Hundreds have died in air raids and fighting since the conflict erupted a week ago, according to reports. Fears are growing that Ethiopia, a nation of 110 million, could slide into a civil war.

Under growing pressure, at least 8,000 Ethiopian refugees have crossed the now-closed border into Sudan, the state-run SUNA news agency reported. The agency, citing unidentified officials, said more than 200,000 Ethiopians were expected to cross into Sudan in the coming days.

Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan, reporting from the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, said authorities feared they would not be able to cope with the number of people crossing the border.

“The border [Sudanese] states of Kassala and Al Qadaraif already had camps and were hosting refugees prior to the conflict that had broken out in the Tigray region last week,” she added.

“There were already hundreds of refugees there waiting to be processed … saying the aid they were receiving was not sufficient for them.”

‘Brought to justice’

Communications remain almost completely severed with the Tigray region a week after Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced a military offensive in response to an alleged attack by regional forces.

He insisted there will be no negotiations with a regional government he considers illegal until its ruling “clique” is arrested and its well-stocked arsenal is destroyed.

The United Kingdom and the African Union have urged Abiy for an immediate de-escalation as the conflict threatens to destabilise the strategic but vulnerable Horn of Africa region.

Abiy is not listening to requests for mediation, diplomats and security officials in East Africa have said. “We won’t rest till this junta is brought to justice,” Abiy wrote on Twitter late on Tuesday.

The standoff leaves nearly 900 aid workers in the Tigray region from the UN and other groups struggling to contact the outside world with pleas for help.

“Nine UN agencies, almost 20 NGOs, all depending on two offices” with the means to communicate, Sajid said.

In addition, more than 1,000 people of different nationalities are stuck in the region, he said. That includes tourists. Countries urgently are seeking their evacuation.

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