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Hidden hunger victims flee to Ethiopia

As famine spreads across Somalia and thousands of hungry Somalis flood into Ethiopian refugee camps, thousands of others are doing the same, although this time families from Eritrea.

The United Nations yesterday called for greater efforts bring the food crisis in the Horn of Africa under control, saying that famine had spread to a sixth area in Somalia, with 750,000 people at risk of starvation.

Millions of people are also starving in Ethiopia, which is already struggling to handle hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing hunger in Somalia.

And now it emerges thousands of Eritreans are amassing in Ethiopia's refugee camps contributing to growing evidence that with up to two in three Eritreans going hungry.

Across the Horn of Africa more than 12 million people are struggling to feed themselves and their families in the region's worst drought in 60 years.

But Eritrea is the only country in the region that denies it is affected by the crisis.

The secretive nation has even accused the global community of crying "crocodile tears" over famine victims in other countries. 

Neighbouring Ethiopia, where 4.5 million people need aid, claims that more than half of people in Eritrea need food aid. This is something Eritrea fiercely denies: "There [are] no food shortages in Eritrea at the present time, said presidential adviser Yemane Ghebreab. “Last year, we had a bumper harvest."

But the hungry Eritreans arriving in Ethiopia’s refugee camps paint a very different picture.

"This year I farmed, but there was lack of rain. I don't know what's going to happen, only God knows," said Mehreteab, a refugee.

He fled the army and risked death or jail if caught crossing the heavily armed border, leaving his wife and three children behind.

"There is no food and no grain in the home," he told Agence France Presse. "I don't have any idea what's going to happen to them."

Eritrea is one of the world's most closed nations with no free press and no opposition. So it seems impossible to confirm the Eritrean government's claims that people there have the food they need. But experts paint a different picture. They say malnutrition is rising in under fives while satellite imagery shows below average rainfall.

The US ambassador to the United Nations said she is "deeply concerned" about the plight of Eritreans and urged its government to let aid workers in.

"The people of Eritrea who most likely are suffering the very same food shortages that we're seeing throughout the region are being left to starve," said Susan Rice.

Hayley attribution