Over 40,000 Ethiopians have fled to neighboring Sudan as government forces pursue an offensive in the Tigray region, the UN’s refugee agency said Monday.
UNHCR said that as of Sunday, it and the Sudanese government had registered 40,277 people fleeing into Sudan, which is struggling to cope with its own severe economic crisis.
“Refugees arrive exhausted from their long trek to safety, with few belongings and need assistance,” the UNHCR said.
The UN agency’s statement came a day after Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed gave the leaders of a dissident northern region 72 hours to surrender ahead of a threatened all-out assault on Tigray’s capital, Mekele.
Abiy, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, launched the military campaign against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on November 4, accusing it of attacking two federal military camps in the region, and of seeking to destabilize his government.
Ethiopians arriving in Sudan told AFP they had left behind modest lives as farmers with just the clothes on their backs to escape intense bombings, shootings and knife attacks in Tigray.
Many have been housed in the rapidly growing tent-town of Um Raquba refugee camp, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the border.
The UN said an estimated 45 percent of arrivals were children and four percent aged above 60, with the total divided into around 43 percent female and 57 percent male.
The UN said it was planning on the basis of some 50,000 people fleeing to Sudan but warns that their numbers could rise if the fighting continues.
Hundreds of people are reported to have been killed, but a communications blackout has made claims from both sides difficult to verify.