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UNHCR Ready to Resume Humanitarian Operations in Ethiopia’s Northern Tigray Region

FILE - Ethiopian refugees line up for supplies at the Um Rakouba refugee camp, which houses refugees fleeing the fighting in the Tigray region, on the Sudan-Ethiopia border in Sudan, Nov. 29, 2020.

The U.N. refugee agency reports it is ready to resume its humanitarian operation in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region as soon as the Ethiopian government gives it the green light to go ahead.

Aid agencies have been unable to provide vital humanitarian assistance to civilians and Eritrean refugees since fighting in Tigray began a month ago. The agencies are waiting to receive full and unhindered access to the region, in line with an agreement between the United Nations and Ethiopian authorities.

The U.N. refugee agency reports its staff, together with partners in the Tigrayan town of Shire, already have distributed water, high energy biscuits, clothes and other essential relief to some 5,000 people who have become displaced by the fighting.

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However, UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch says agency staff still is unable to reach about 96,000 Eritrean refugees in four camps.

“We continue to receive disturbing reports regarding the Eritrean refugee camps in the region, which remain incommunicado,” Baloch said. "The details of damages and disruptions remain unknown until we are able to reach them and verify the information.”

The refugee camps are located near the frontlines of ongoing fighting. Hundreds of people reportedly have been killed since Ethiopia began its military assault on the region November 4.

Baloch says it is hard to verify the number of casualties because communications in Tigray have been cut off since the conflict began. He calls the situation very concerning.

“Fears are that many Eritrean refugees may have already fled the camp in search of safety … UNHCR is discussing with the federal government’s refugee agency on logistics arrangements, and the need to assess the security situation before the resumption of humanitarian activities,” Baloch said.

Meanwhile, the UNHCR reports some 47,000 Ethiopian refugees have arrived in neighboring Sudan. It says more than 1,000 arrived Thursday and refugees say more people are on their way in search of safety.