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First of four UN humanitarian airlifts for Ethiopia refugees lands in Khartoum

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A young Ethiopian refugee sleeps on a mattress at a transit site in Hamdayet, Sudan. © UNHCR/Olivier Jobard

An airplane loaded with humanitarian supplies for people fleeing violence in Ethiopia’s Tigray region has arrived in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, the UN refugee agency (UNCHR) said on Friday, in an appeal for international assistance to cope with the growing numbers seeking shelter in Sudan.

“This morning, a plane carrying 32 tonnes of UNHCR emergency aid from our global stockpiles in Dubai landed in Khartoum”, said spokesperson Babar Baloch. “Another airlift is scheduled to leave Dubai on Monday with an additional 100 tonnes of additional relief items…In total, we plan to send four airlifts.”

Growing exodus

Since the start of fighting in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region in early November, more than 43,000 refugees have crossed into Sudan.

People have sought shelter amid reports of a heavy build-up of tanks and artillery around regional capital Mekelle, following the Ethiopian Government’s ultimatum to forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to surrender, which has reportedly expired.

On Tuesday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed deep concern over the unfolding situation, before urging “the leaders of Ethiopia to do everything possible to protect civilians, uphold human rights and ensure humanitarian access for the provision of much-needed assistance”.

In a statement, the UN chief also called for the “free and safe movement of people searching for safety and assistance, regardless of their ethnic identity, across both national and international borders”.

Echoing the Secretary-General’s message, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, warned that both sides were using rhetoric that was “dangerously provocative and risks placing already vulnerable and frightened civilians in grave danger”.

One million refugees

Even before violence erupted in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region causing mass displacement, Sudan was already home to nearly one million refugees, mainly from South Sudan.

In eastern Sudan, UNHCR has continued to step up its relief effort, together with national and local partners. “Aid is being mobilized to help refugees, almost half of whom are children”, Mr. Baloch said, citing “complex logistical challenges”.

To date the agency has helped to relocate nearly 10,000 refugees to Um Rakuba site, 70 kilometres inside Sudan, as work continues to put up shelters and improve services.

Family tracing services have been established and these have already reunited many separated refugees.

Mr. Baloch noted that although humanitarian agencies continue to provide shelter and other facilities to help refugees, “more resources are required and Sudan needs international support urgently”.

Inside Tigray, concerns continue to grow for the safety of civilians in Mekelle, home to more than 500,000 people, and some 96,000 Eritrean refugees based in four camps.

No access

“Without humanitarian access, it’s very hard to say what is actually going on, on the ground but there were worrying reports that fighting was getting closer to these refugee camps”, Mr. Baloch told journalists via video link at a regular UN Geneva briefing.

Before the conflict erupted, UNHCR had “regular access to the refugees”, the UNHCR official continued, but “since the start of it, we have lost access”.

Highlighting the refugees’ reliance on humanitarian distributions, Mr. Baloch said that “according to what they have had…they will be running out of food as of Monday”.

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Africa Today

Sudan: 250 killed, over 100,000 displaced as violence surges in Darfur

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Intercommunal violence in Darfur has left millions in need of assistance. Pictured here, an IDP settlement in Sortoni. (file photo) UNAMID/Mohamad Almahady

A sharp uptick in intercommunal violence in Sudan’s Darfur region has forced more than 100,000 people to flee their homes in search of safety, including many into neighbouring Chad, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reported on Friday.

According to the agency, 250 people – including three humanitarian workers – also lost their lives in the clashes that started on 15 January in West Darfur province, and spread into South Darfur the next day. 

Boris Cheshirkov, a UNHCR spokesperson, told journalists at a regular press briefing in Geneva on Friday, that about 3,500 new Sudanese refugees have arrived in eastern Chad. 

“These refugees – the majority of them women and children – have been hosted in four very remote locations that lack basic services or public infrastructure, where they have been sheltering under trees,” he said. 

“Due to the COVID-19 situation, Chadian local authorities are directing the new arrivals to a transit site, where they will undergo quarantine before being relocated to an existing refugee camp, away from the border,” the UNHCR spokesperson added. 

He said that the UN agency is rushing supplies to the area to respond to their needs, as well as mobilizing resources as part of an inter-agency response. 

‘Break the cycle of violence’ 

Authorities in the region have been attempting to contain the situation and have deployed security forces to the area but “severe gaps” in protection remain, according to the UN human rights office. 

However, an “imminent risk” of further violence remains, in an environment “where decades-old ethnic and tribal tensions that were further stoked by the previous regime continue to fester”, OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said at the same briefing. 

There are reports that local health facilities are unable to cope with the high number of casualties, she added. 

The OHCHR spokesperson called on the Government of Sudan to protect of civilians as well as restore public order and the rule of law in Darfur. 

She also called for thorough and effective investigations into the violence to bring the perpetrators to justice and “to break the cycle of armed citizens taking the law into their own hands to avenge attacks on members of their communities.” 

A vast, strife-torn region  

Darfur, a vast region roughly the size of Spain and plagued by violence for years, was the site of a United Nations-African Union hybrid peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) that was deployed to protect civilians, facilitate aid delivery, and support efforts to address root causes of the conflict.  

The mandate of UNAMID ended last year and it ceased operations on 31 December 2020, roughly two weeks before the latest round of violence.  

The mission is currently drawing down, a process that includes repatriation of troops, their vehicles and other equipment; the separation of civilian staff; and the closure of its offices.  

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COVID ‘vaccine hoarding’ putting Africa at risk

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Photo: Xinhua

Africa is in danger of being left behind in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines as countries in other regions strike bilateral deals, thus driving up prices, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Thursday. 

Although vaccines have been administered in 50 wealthier nations, Guinea is the sole low-income country on the continent to receive doses, with only 25 people being inoculated so far.  Meanwhile, Seychelles is the only African country to start a national vaccination campaign. 

‘We first, not me first’ 

“We first, not me first, is the only way to end the pandemic. Vaccine hoarding will only prolong the ordeal and delay Africa’s recovery. It is deeply unjust that the most vulnerable Africans are forced to wait for vaccines while lower-risk groups in rich countries are made safe”, said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. 

“Health workers and vulnerable people in Africa need urgent access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.” 

An international coalition known as the COVAX Facility was established to ensure all countries will have equal access to any vaccines against the new coronavirus disease. 

It is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and WHO. 

The COVAX Facility has secured two billion doses of vaccine from five producers, with options for over one billion more.  Delivery is set to begin soon, according to Thabani Maphosa, Managing Director, Country Programmes at GAVI. 

“This massive international undertaking has been made possible thanks to donations, work towards dose-sharing deals and deals with manufacturers that have brought us to almost two billion doses secured. We look forward to rollout in the coming weeks”, he said. 

Vaccination commitment  

COVAX has committed to vaccinating at least 20 per cent of the population in Africa by the end of this year. 

Priority will be given to health workers and other vulnerable groups, such as older persons and those with pre-existing health conditions. 

An initial 30 million vaccine doses are expected to begin arriving in countries by March.  Overall, a maximum of 600 million doses will be disbursed, based on two doses per person. 

WHO said timelines and quantities could change, for example if vaccines fail to meet regulatory approval or due to challenges related to production, delivery and funding.

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‘Complex’ emergency unfolding in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado

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A group of people, having fled violence in several districts of Cabo Delgado, arrive in the provincial capital, Pebma. IOM/Matteo Theubet

UN agencies voiced deep concern on Wednesday over the worsening humanitarian crisis in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, where attacks by armed groups have forced more than 565,000 to flee their homes. 

According to the agencies, growing insecurity and poor infrastructure are making it increasingly difficulty to reach families “completely reliant” on humanitarian assistance, amid fears that imminent rains and threat of cyclones could further compound the challenges. 

“Coupled with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, the crisis has become even more complex”, regional heads of UN agencies in east and southern Africa said in a joint statement

“The crisis is a complex security, human rights, humanitarian and development emergency, underscoring the imperative of continuing to provide life-saving assistance while collectively supporting Government-led long-term resilience building”, the statement added. 

Crisis worsening 

In December, the UN officials visited Mozambique to assess the needs of the displaced populations as well as of the host communities.  

They heard extremely moving accounts from displaced men, women and children in the city of Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado, and in the districts of Ancuabe and Chiúre – people whose lives have been upended by conflict and insecurity. 

While acknowledging that much has been done to help victims of the crisis, the UN officials stressed that with displacement increasing daily, the lack of adequate food, water, sanitation, shelter, health, protection and education, was exacerbating an already dire situation, which could be further complicated by on-going torrential rains.  

Urgent support needed 

The UN agencies also raised concerns over the continuing impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which is keeping most schools closed. 

There is an urgent need to expand protection, healthcare, food and nutrition programmes, vaccination efforts and psychosocial counselling, and to aid displaced farming and fishing families to re-establish sustainable livelihoods, they added. 

They also urged support for adequate resettlement of uprooted families straining the already limited resources of impoverished host communities, and Government efforts to effectively register and assist the displaced. 

The senior officials are urging the Government of Mozambique and the international community “to step up efforts to end all forms of violence in the country, including gender-based violence and child marriage, and to invest more in women and girls as agents of progress and change,” the statement said.

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