Taking to the skies when crisis hits
How the UN Humanitarian Air Service in Sudan helps tens of thousands of refugees from the Tigray region of Ethiopia get the emergency assistance they desperately need
By Leni Kinzli
They arrived with little or nothing, many having trekked across the Ethiopia — Sudan border on foot or across a river on makeshift rafts. Fleeing conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, tens of thousands of civilians sought safety in neighbouring Sudan.
“We were in our town, doing our jobs, when we heard a huge explosion and started to flee to the Sudanese border,” said Dejen Fantay, a 25-year-old refugee staying in Um Rakuba Camp in Gedaref State.
“The event was abrupt, and no one even had money in their pockets. Many departed from their families and now they don’t know where they are.”
Conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region escalated on 4 November 2020. Since then more than 52,000 people have crossed the border into remote areas of eastern Sudan in need of urgent humanitarian assistance — including food, water and shelter.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and other humanitarian agencies, led by the UN refugee agency UNHCR, quickly reacted to mobilize relief supplies.
WFP, which manages the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) increased its flights from Khartoum to Kassala so humanitarian responders could reach the area swiftly. UNHAS also started regular helicopter flights to remote locations close to the camps and reception centres where aid organizations assist the refugees.
“WFP UNHAS is playing a critical role in facilitating humanitarian access in response to this crisis,” said Marianne Ward, WFP Deputy Country Director for Operations in Sudan.
“By flying daily to Kassala and regularly to the areas where reception centres and camps are set up, UNHAS enables aid actors to provide urgently needed assistance to vulnerable refugees arriving from Tigray,” she added.
To continue supporting the humanitarian response for refugees from Ethiopia, WFP requires US$3.8 million for UNHAS flights to eastern Sudan for the next six months.
In 2020, UNHAS Sudan flew to 33 destinations, and transported more than 15,500 passengers from 80 humanitarian organizations.
The operations of UNHAS in Sudan in 2020 were possible thanks to generous contributions from Canada, the European Union, Germany, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Sweden, and the United States of America.