Queue of Ethiopian refugees.

Ethiopian refugees wait to receive a World Food Programme distribution at the Um Rakuba camp in Al Qadarif state, Sudan. ©UNHCR/Will Swanson

Worsening crisis in the Tigray region forces thousands to flee to eastern Sudan

Sitting in a refugee camp in eastern Sudan, Futsum speaks of a harrowing experience that is all too familiar for thousands fleeing conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

“I didn’t carry a bag, just my clothes. I had biscuits and a bottle of water to keep me going during the journey,” says Futsum, a 25-year-old painter, sculptor and filmmaker.

Futsum is among more than 60,000 Ethiopian refugees who have crossed into eastern Sudan since mid-November 2020 — half of whom are children.

After days of travel, many arrive exhausted and weakened from their long journey to safety. They are arriving with scant belongings and little more than the clothes on their backs.

“I have met parents, professionals, children, and the elderly who were suddenly caught in the violence and were forced to flee. I saw the sadness in their eyes for what they had to leave behind. At the same time, I was impressed by their resilience.” — UNHCR Sudan Representative Axel Bisschop

The humanitarian situation across the Tigray region which has forced thousands to flee Ethiopia remains deeply troubling for those who remain: Eritrean refugees, a growing number of internally displaced people, and host communities. The majority of roads to and within Tigray are still inaccessible. Basic services such as health care and banking have virtually stopped operating. Food and electricity are in short supply.

Man poses next to a wall.

Ethiopian refugee Futsum sits in the abandoned building where he is sheltering at Um Rakuba camp in Al Qadarif state, Sudan. The painter, sculptor and filmmaker fled fighting in the Tigray region. ©UNHCR/Will Swanson

UNHCR has regained access to two camps within the Tigray region and found Eritrean refugees in urgent need of supplies and services two months after conflict forced humanitarian workers to withdraw from the region. UNHCR is echoing a UN-wide call for full and unimpeded access to all refugees in the Tigray region and continues to be committed to working with the Ethiopian government to seek solutions. “Safe access and swift action are needed now to save thousands of lives at risk,” says UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.


More than 20,000 refugees are currently hosted in Um Rakuba Camp, 70 kilometres from the border in Sudan. An additional site has been set up in a separate location and started receiving refugees in early 2021.

UNHCR is continuing its work with our partners in support of Ethiopian refugees who have found safety in Sudan. We are providing life-saving essentials including:

  • Emergency shelter
  • Food and drinking water
  • Health screening to those seeking protection

With generous support, we are able to distribute core relief items, including:

  • Blankets
  • Sleeping mats
  • Soap
  • Plastic sheeting



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