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Thousands of Ethiopians flee Tigray conflict for neighbouring Sudan

United Nations says it is working to find the new refugees shelter in southern Sudan
Ethiopians sit with their belongings in Hamdait village on the Sudan-Ethiopia border (Reuters)

Thousands of Ethiopians fleeing conflict in the Tigray region have fled to Sudan, as tensions continue to rise in Ethiopia, according to Sudan's state SUNA news agency.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced on 4 November that he had ordered military operations in Tigray in a dramatic escalation of a long-running feud with the region's ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).

The leader of the Tigray region on Sunday claimed responsibility for rocket strikes on the airport of neighbouring Eritrea's capital, sparking fears that the conflict could widen.

"The number of Ethiopian refugees who have arrived in Gadaref and Kassala states since Saturday has reached 24,944," SUNA reported.

Sudan's commissioner for refugees, Abdullah Suleiman, toured the border region on Saturday with UN refugee agency assistant representative in Sudan Jan Hansmann to discuss the influx.

SUNA quoted Hansmann as saying that the priority for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was to provide the refugees with shelter, food and water and then to transfer them to regions far from the border "for security reasons".

He added that UN refugee agency was working to establish new camps in Sudan for the Ethiopians.

Ethiopians wait in line for food aid after fleeing the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia (AFP)
Ethiopians wait in line for food aid after fleeing the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia (AFP)

Sudan has already said it would shelter thousands of Ethiopians fleeing the conflict at the Um Raquba camp, which in the 1980s hosted thousands of Ethiopian fleeing famine.

Over the past week, exhausted refugees have streamed across the border into Sudan after walking for two days through searing heat, many of them barefoot.

Some arrived on scooters and other cycled, while others boarded makeshift boats to cross a river into Sudan to flee intense fighting at home.

Suleiman called on the international community to pitch in with aid for the refugees.

UNHCR said it expected the number of refugees to grow if the conflict in neighbouring Ethiopia worsens.

A Sudanese government source said up to 200,000 Ethiopians could seek shelter in Sudan.