Ethiopian refugees from Tigray find refuge in Sudan
Tens of thousands of vulnerable Ethiopian people have crossed the border into eastern Sudan fleeing conflict in the Tigray region that started in November 2020. The refugees are arriving tired, with little or no belongings and humanitarian organizations in Sudan are providing the refugees with the assistance they desperately need.
The Sudan Humanitarian Fund (SHF) has provided nine humanitarian partners with US$6.3 million to respond to the needs of the refugees. As of 23 March, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Government’s Commissioner for refugees (COR) have registered over 62,000 Ethiopian refugees who have crossed the border into eastern Sudan.
Yonas (not his real name) is one of the refugees currently living in Um Rakoba camp in the eastern state of Gedaref, with his wife and six children. “We used to live a simple life and I used to work in a storehouse. I earned a good salary. My children were in different school years and we lived peacefully with all the tribes in the region, without any problems and conflict. Suddenly, we found ourselves surrounded by war and had to run towards the Sudanese borders to save our lives,” Yonas said.
“We arrived in Hamdayet in mid-November  and were transferred to the Um Rakoba camp where the situation was bad. We lived in the open and under the trees. We did not feel safe at that moment,” he added.
In Um Rakoba camp, humanitarians are racing against the clock to meet the needs of these refugees. With funding of over $520,000 from the SHF, the international NGO Welthungerhilfe (WHH) has been scaling up its response to cater for the refugees. WHH is responding to the emergency needs of the most vulnerable, ensuring that people have access to drinkable water, safe and proper sanitation facilities and improving their awareness about hygiene related issues, with a particular focus on COVID-19 prevention.
WHH is also ensuring that refugees get timely access to emergency shelter and household supplies. Protection activities are also being provided to women and children from both the refugee and host community where they are provided with safe spaces and are sensitized on key protection issues and referral pathways.
“Welthungerhilfe has provided us with water jerricans, water disinfectant, soap and sanitary towels. Before we were using the bushes as our toilets, but WHH constructed toilets for us, assisted in pitching our tents and established hand washing facilities in different places in the camp,” Yonas said.
WHH has also given Yonas and other refugees in the camp with cooking utensils, traditional sleeping mattresses, and blankets. “Our situation has changed, and we now feel stable and satisfied,” Yonas noted.
Tadesse (not his real name) is another Ethiopian refugee in the camp. “I used to run a small shop to help us earn money to make ends meet. One day, we were shocked by the sound of explosions that forced us to flee to Sudan. Everything was gone and I had nothing; our life became dependent on aid distributions, which was only possible after registration,” Tadesse said.
“There were many of us who needed help in Hamdayet. We arrived there on 10 November 2020, after that we were moved to Um Rakoba camp on 12 November 2020 after a long trip full of dust and no food,” Tadesse went on.
When Tadesse and his wife arrived in Um Rakoba they slept on the ground under the trees. Tadesse’s wife was complaining about the difficult conditions in the camp. After a few days, aid organizations delivered tents, mosquito nets, mattresses, blankets and soap. “It is better now than before, we found comfort and peace, but we need more support,” Tadesse said.
UNHCR in Sudan launched an Ethiopian refugee response plan for the period November 2020 to June 2021 for a projected 100,000 refugees at a cost of $147 million. Over 30 partner organizations are involved in this response. Sudan hosts one of the largest refugee populations in Africa with over 1 million refugees and asylum seekers in the country, according to UNHCR.