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Security concerns keep UN from reaching refugee camp in Ethiopia

Security concerns keep UN from reaching refugee camp in Ethiopia

Aid workers and staff from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) continue to be unable to access the Fugnido camp in southwestern Ethiopia due to security concerns, the agency said today.

The camp, home to some 28,700 refugees, was the scene of violence in late November when 41 Sudanese refugees were killed in reportedly ethnic clashes. Fugnido is the largest of five refugee settlements in Ethiopia's Gambella region, which hosts a total of 85,000 Sudanese. UNHCR personnel have been ordered to keep clear of the camp since 25 November.

At a press briefing in Geneva, UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski called for additional security in the area. "The clashes in Fugnido highlight the need for ARRA [the Ethiopian Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs] and the Ethiopian Government to ensure the basic principles of refugee protection and monitoring," he said.

Last week UNHCR representatives and the regional head of its main partner, ARRA, went to Fugnido to speak with residents in a bid to restore calm. The UN agency reported that the situation remains tense, with over 200 refugees who had been residing in the camp taking refuge in the nearby UNHCR-ARRA compound.

The clashes reportedly mirror tribal and political conflicts among members of the Ethiopian host community, while the refugees' affiliations with various factions of the rebel Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) are said to be fuelling the dispute. UNHCR indicated last week that it was studying the possibility of shifting some tribal communities out of Fugnido to other sites in order to ease the long-simmering ethnic tensions in the region.