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Number of refugees fleeing Ethiopia's Tigray region to Sudan surpasses 20,000: UN

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Ethiopian refugees, who fled intense fighting in their homeland, gather in the Um Raquba camp in the town of Gadaref, east of Khartoum, on November 15, 2020, after being transported from the border reception center. (Photo by AFP)

The UN refugee agency says the number of people who have fled into neighboring Sudan from the worsening conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region has risen to at least 20,000. 

Figures by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Sunday suggested that more than 12,500 crossed at Hamdayat and nearly 7,500 to the south at al-Luqdi from Nov. 7 to 14. 

Abdullah Suleiman, the head of Sudan's refugee commission, put the total number of refugees at around 25,000 by the end of Saturday. 

Suleiman had recently held talks with officials from the UNHCR to discuss the means of providing shelter and relief to the fleeing refugees.

UN agencies are trying to assist the refugees, who have been arriving in growing numbers with few possessions. 

Local Sudanese officials have voiced concerns that the influx of refugees could rise exponentially in coming days.

Some media reports have estimated that up to 200,000 refugees could pour into Sudan while fleeing the deadly conflict in Tigray region. 

The UN refugee agency has said it is "mobilizing resources to provide lifesaving assistance." 

The international community has expressed concern about the potential for a drawn-out conflict in Ethiopia, Africa's second most populous nation.

On Sunday, the embattled leader of Tigray said hundreds of thousands of people of the northern region are displaced internally by the fighting that has featured multiple rounds of government airstrikes.

Debretsion Gebremichael, leader of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), also confirmed that his forces had launched rocket strikes on an airport in neighboring Eritrea, raising fears of a wider war in the Horn of Africa.

He said that the rocket strike on the airport in Eritrea's capital, Asmara, was an attack on a “legitimate target” in response to its collusion with the Ethiopian government. 

 Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who ordered the army offensive in the restive Tigray region early this month, has denied that Eritrean forces have been involved in the conflict.

In a statement on Twitter on Sunday, Abiy asserted that Ethiopian forces were more than capable of achieving their military objectives in Tigray.

The Ethiopian government's fighter jets have been pounding targets in Tigray.

The government has sent troops and military jets into Tigray to end the months-long feud with its ruling party, which Abiy accuses of seeking to destabilize Ethiopia.

The prime minister has said the conflict would end “as soon as the criminal junta is disarmed, legitimate administration in the region restored, and fugitives apprehended & brought to justice.”

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