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The BBC's Mark Percy
"Aid workers say time is running out"
 real 28k

Friday, 9 June, 2000, 15:09 GMT 16:09 UK
Eritrean refugees turn back

By Martin Plaut

Eritrean refugees who have been streaming into neighbouring Sudan have begun to return home.

Their numbers are still small, but their return may mark the turning point in the exodus of refugees who have been attempting to escape from the two-year-old border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has been attempting to deal with the exodus that has resulted in 73,000 Eritreans fleeing to Sudan over the past month.

There are approximately a million refugees in the Horn of Africa today.

The refugees are now trickling back
The refugees are now trickling back
Some have been living in exile in Sudan for decades, and the UNHCR had reached agreement in April to begin the return of tens of thousands of Eritreans to their homes.

But the current round of fighting has meant that the operation has been suspended, as waves of new refugees have fled to Sudan before the Ethiopian advance.

Internally displaced

The scale of the exodus has been dwarfed by the numbers of people displaced inside their own countries.

According to the Eritrean authorities, as many as 750,000 are now internally displaced.

In Ethiopia, more than 270,000 have been forced to flee from the conflict and the situation is exacerbated by the regional drought.

The UNHCR is now sending urgent appeals for assistance to meet their needs.

The head of the organisation, Sodaka Ogata, will be in Sudan over the weekend at the start of a two-week African tour. And emergency teams are flying into Eritrea, Djibouti, Sudan and Yemen to try to get to grips with the crisis.

The combination of war, drought and exile is putting hundreds of thousands at risk.

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See also:

09 Jun 00 | Africa
Fighting rages near Horn port
08 Nov 99 | Africa
A refugee's story
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