Sightline: 4,000 fleeing Ethiopia fighting to Sudan refugee camps every day

Limited resources are stretched and there are worries the crisis may turn into a humanitarian emergency

More than 30,000 refugees have fled Ethiopia’s Tigray region where the government is at war with the local separatist forces.  As the fighting intensifies, so has the influx of men, women and children into aid-dependent Sudan.

Now, with about 4,000 people arriving daily and only one functioning relocation site with a capacity of 6,000 people, the situation is worsening and the on-site supplies are simply not enough, aid agencies warn.

Some have walked for hours, some even days, some have swum across a river, taken what little they could carry and leaving the rest behind to seek refuge from the fighting at home.

“We did not know what was going on when we heard the gunshots,” Gannite, an Ethiopian woman, told UN officials. “Many people were killed – we could see ten, twenty bodies lying on the ground. That’s when we decided to leave."

It took her three days to arrive.

“I walked until my legs were injured and bleeding,” she said. “Thank God I have something to eat.”

Many, like her, carried their children on their backs, traversing the Tekeze River into eastern Sudan. At one of the busiest entry points, Hemdayet, water is scarce, dust covers everything, shade is invaluable, shelter is insufficient and hope is flimsy.

Another woman, Azeeb, said she arrived at Hemdayet with her children but hadn't seen her husband for days.

"We worked for so many years. We left everything and fled. We came with the clothes on our backs," she said. "I don't know where my husband is," she said, tears welling up as she looked away from the camera.

Children were sprawled near the river bank next to empty orange jugs used to carry water. A man held his sleeping child on his back, carrying his shoes in the same hands he used to keep her upright.

But the world’s newest refugee crisis is in danger of becoming a humanitarian emergency.

It is a desolate and desperate scene, and humanitarian groups are gearing up to help however they can.

The UNCHR, the UN refugee agency, is working with the World Food Programme, Sudan's Commissioner of Refugees and other agencies to provide temporary shelters, hot meals, high-nutrition biscuits, potable water, soap and face-masks.

"Relief items are also being distributed, including blankets, sleeping mats and plastic sheeting," the UNHCR said.

A coronavirus prevention awareness campaign has also been launched.

"Soap and 50,000 face masks have been sent from the capital, Khartoum, for distribution," but the constant flow of new arrivals is hampering aid efforts, the UNHCR said.

Now, entry points for incoming displaced persons have expanded farther south into Sudan’s Blue Nile state, and there is no sign the influx of people will slow down.

Dozens of people in need of relocation are being taken to the Um Raqaba camp about 13 hours away.

A Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) team has just arrived on site and is still in the process of settling in and assessing the situation.

Sudan’s Red Crescent has set up two clinics where they are conducting screenings for nutritional needs.

With communications cut off in Tigray, the refugees have no way of contacting home.

In Tigray, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told TPLF forces on Tuesday that the three-day period to surrender had expired.

As the fighting continues and the death toll on both sides mounts, the only way forward for the 30,000 refugees is not to look back.