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Following camp exodus, UNHCR highlights plight of Sudanese refugees stranded on Ethiopian roadside

(Photo: UNHCR)

Addis Abeba – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has expressed concern regarding the situation of around 1,000 Sudanese refugees who departed the Awlala refugee site in Ethiopia’s Amhara region recently.

A UNHCR statement indicates that these refugees left the Awlala camp in early May 2024, citing concerns about security incidents and a lack of adequate services at the camp. During the last three weeks, the refugees have been stationed along a roadside near Awlala.

The UNHCR further noted that a segment of the refugee population recently commenced a hunger strike, amplifying anxieties due to the already precarious security situation in the surrounding area.

According to the statement, UNHCR, in collaboration with Ethiopia’s Refugees and Returnees Service (RRS), has engaged in continuous dialogue with the refugees to comprehend their grievances and establish solutions.

While acknowledging the legitimacy of the refugees’ demands for enhanced security and improved services, the UN agency cautioned that the roadside protest and the resulting unsanitary conditions expose the refugees to potential hazards.

The statement elaborated that efforts had been undertaken to guarantee the group’s access to water, healthcare, and other services available at Awlala. However, UNHCR conceded that visits by its teams were temporarily halted when a contingent of refugees protested their presence.

UNHCR has urged the refugees to return to Awlala while discussions with authorities are ongoing to find a sustainable resolution. In response, Ethiopian authorities have increased security deployments and patrols around Awlala and the nearby Kumer refugee site, according to the statement.

At both sites, UNHCR and its partners continue to provide essential services, including medical care, water, and education. However, the statement noted that the refugee response program faces significant funding gaps, with only 11% of the required funds received thus far.

UNHCR reiterated its call for increased international financial assistance to address the deficiencies in protection, healthcare, water, sanitation, and educational services provided to refugees in Ethiopia.

The statement from UNHCR comes a day after Babiker Al-Siddiq, the official spokesperson for Sudan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, referenced around 6,000 Sudanese refugees who were stranded in an Ethiopian forest in early May after the Ethiopian government prevented them from leaving its territory while they were attempting to return to Sudan on foot.

Al-Siddiq stated that the Sudanese government remains in close contact with neighboring countries hosting Sudanese refugees following the conflict. He urged these nations to facilitate the issuance of visas and entry procedures for the refugees.

However, Al-Siddiq acknowledged that it is the sovereign right of any country to impose its own restrictions on the process of receiving migrants and refugees.

During a recent performance review meeting of the National Task Force established to oversee the treatment of Sudanese and other foreign national refugees, it was revealed that more than 15,000 Sudanese refugees fleeing the ongoing civil war are residing in urban centers like Addis Ababa, with their visas being renewed for free. AS

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