Refugees accuse Ethiopia army of blocking road to Sudan

Ethiopia refugees

Ethiopian refugees who fled the fighting in the Tigray region gather upon arrival to a reception centre in Sudan on November 22, 2020. 

Photo credit: Ashraf Shazly | AFP

Ethiopia's army has blocked one of the main roads leading to Sudan, preventing people fleeing the Tigray conflict from crossing the border, according to refugees arriving Thursday in eastern Sudan.

More than 40,000 refugees have crossed from Ethiopia into Sudan since the conflict broke out on November 4 between federal forces and leaders of Tigray's ruling party.

"The Ethiopian army has cut the road leading to the Sudanese border" at Humera, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the frontier, said Tesfai Burhano, who had just arrived at the Lugdi crossing point.

"Those seeking to reach Sudan must avoid the main road and pass through fields without being seen by soldiers," he told AFP.

On Thursday, the border post was vacant without any Ethiopian soldiers visible, an AFP correspondent at the scene reported, adding that about a dozen refugees were seen crossing the frontier at the time.

The number of Ethiopian refugees arriving in Sudan has fallen sharply in the past week, according to figures from the UN refugee agency.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, said 718 refugees arrived on Wednesday, compared with 3,813 on Saturday.

A Sudanese security official confirmed the fall in numbers, without giving any explanations.

The UNHCR says 42,651 refugees have arrived in Sudan since the start of the Tigray conflict, 70 percent of them in Hamdayit, in the Sudanese province of Kassala, the rest in Gedaref province.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Thursday ordered Ethiopia's army to launch a "final" offensive against Tigray's leaders in their regional capital Mekele.

Abiy, the winner of last year's Nobel Peace Prize, had on Sunday given the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) 72 hours to lay down their arms, an ultimatum they rejected.