More than 88,000 people have so far arrived in Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh and total arrivals could reach 120,000, a UN refugee agency official said today, appealing for support as authorities struggle to cope.

More than half the region’s population has fled since Azerbaijan launched an offensive last week. The exodus culminates in the last 24 hours when the self-proclaimed republic of Nagorno-Karabakh announced its final dissolution.

Tens of thousands of civilians – among them unaccompanied young children – are fleeing their homes by road to escape the arrival of Azeri troops.

The same time, Accused of ethnic cleansing by Armenia, Azerbaijan government asks “Armenian residents” of the enclave “not to leave their homes and become part of the multi-ethnic society of Azerbaijan”.

For those who decide to stay, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has promised “guaranteed” rights and Baku is proposing to organize a UN on-site visit.

But tens of thousands of Armenians have already fled fearing reprisals.

Kavita Belani, the representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) in Armenia, told a briefing of journalists from the UN via video link that huge crowds of exhausted and frightened people are gathering at the registration centers.

“This is a situation where they lived nine months in seclusion,” he said. “And when they come, they’re anxious, they’re scared, they’re scared and they want answers.”

About a third of the refugees are children. “The main concern for us is that many of them have been separated from their familiessaid Regina De Dominicis, UNICEF Regional Director.