Around 120 former peacekeepers from Ethiopia, where several regions including northern Tigray are hit by inter-ethnic conflict, have sought asylum in Sudan, the United Nations said Sunday.
The personnel were due to be repatriated on the back of the phased withdrawal of the UN peacekeeping mission, UNAMID, from western Sudan’s Darfur region after its mandate ended on December 31.
“As of now, 120 former UNAMID peacekeepers who were due to be repatriated have sought international protection,” a UN peacekeeping spokesperson told AFP via email.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, also confirmed the former peacekeepers have applied for asylum in Sudan.
They “will be taken to a location where they can be safely undertaken for their refugee status to be determined,” it said without elaborating, due to “protection purposes”.
It was not immediately clear whether all the former peacekeepers seeking asylum originated from Ethiopia’s Tigray region.
The Tigray conflict broke out last November between Ethiopia’s federal forces and leaders of the region’s ruling party, leaving thousands killed.
The fighting sent some 60,000 refugees fleeing into neighbouring Sudan, a nation struggling with economic woes and a rocky transition since the April 2019 ouster of strongman Omar al-Bashir.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, is also grappling with ethnic violence in other regions including Amhara, Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz.
UNAMID, deployed in Darfur since 2007, in January began a phased withdrawal of its about 8,000 armed and civilian personnel, to be completed within six months.
Darfur was the scene of a bitter conflict between ethnic African minority rebels, complaining of marginalisation, against Bashir’s Arab-dominated government in Khartoum.
The fighting killed some 300,000 people and displaced 2.5 million, according to the UN.