Exiled in Sudan, Tigray refugees face new struggle for survival

4 Dec 2020

Source: France 24

The transit camp at Hamdayet, Sudan, where the majority of refugees from Tigray arrive before being transferred to Um Rakuba. © Bastien Renouil, FRANCE 24 | 4 Dec 2020

Since fighting erupted between Ethiopian forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) earlier this autumn, tens of thousands of civilians have fled across the border into neighbouring Sudan. But once safe from the violence in their homeland, they have to survive their new lives in exile.  

By December 1, more than 45,000 refugees had already crossed the Ethiopian-Sudanese border. In the next few months, and depending on how the conflict develops, the United Nations estimates that the number of Ethiopian refugees in Sudan will swell to as much as 200,000.

Arriving in carts, on tractors, in boats and by foot, they usually bring nothing more than the clothes they wear. Some have spent as much as two weeks walking towards safety, and most of that time without any food after having avoided villages occupied by militias or soldiers. They all recount horrifying stories of their route to exile: bodies in the streets, targeted executions and bombings…

Although Sudan agreed to open its doors to the Ethiopian refugees, it was not prepared for the influx it would result in. The villages of Hamdayet and Hashaba, for instance, were immediately flooded with thousands of refugees, and the food and the blankets that local NGOs collected among villagers quickly ran out. Many refugees have therefore had to sleep outside without neither.

Camp from 1980s reopened

Sudanese authorities have also tried to provide assistance, but within just a few days, they too were overwhelmed by the sheer number of refugees needing help. Because eastern Sudan is so difficult to access, it has taken international NGOs and UN aid groups time to provide the refugees with emergency services. And the aid available so far is limited due to a lack of funds.

To accommodate the flood of refugees crossing the border, Sudan has reopened the Um Rakuba camp – an abandoned refugee camp used in the 1980s during the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The camp can accommodate more than 10,000 people, but in contrast to what many of the refugees had expected upon their arrival, the camp lacked both shelter and sufficient water supplies. They also lack food. Aid groups are currently racing against time to help the refugees survive their new lives in exile.

The river that separates Sudan from Ethiopia. Tens of thousands of people have had to cross it to flee the fighting in the Tigray region. © © Bastien Renouil, France 24

Source: France 24