It has been 26 days since the middle-aged woman from Humera, a town in northern Ethiopia, in the Tigray region, lost contact with her husband and children.
She is one of tens of thousands of Ethiopian refugees to have crossed the border into Sudan in recent weeks to flee the fighting that erupted on November 4 between federal government troops and Tigrayan rebels.
Sitting inside a tarpaulin tent in a border refugee camp, she checks again with the Sudanese Red Crescent Office for new information. Not ready to give up, she says she prefers to stay in the area, hoping her loved ones could show up here at any time.
Such stories of separation or of refugees not reaching family members are common here.
The Sudanese Red Crescent, in coordination with the International Committee of the Red Cross, is trying to help.
“We started a program called ‘family reunification’,” says Hudhaifa Mohamed Saleh of the Sudanese Red Crescent.
“In the beginning, we allow them to call their family members for free. If that doesn’t work, we send short messages through our partner agencies in Ethiopia. So far we have made 2,500 phone calls and sent 86 messages. Seventy percent of phone calls are successful. “
In recent days, the number of refugees arriving in Sudan has grown from around 400 a day to more than 800, according to the United Nations. Part of the increase is due to a new round of fighting that has been reported between the Ethiopian military and rebel forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in the Shire region west of the regional capital, Mekelle.
“There is a lot of fear,” says Andrew Mbogori, emergency coordinator at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “The [are] many community conflicts inside Tigray and they found it easier or safer to come to Sudan. “
– Andrew Mbogori (@andrewMbogori) December 4, 2020
Mohamed Vall d’Al Jazeera, reporting from Um Raquba refugee camp, said there was a wave of construction work in the settlement.
“The place is growing,” he noted. “The feeling is that this situation is going to take a long time to be resolved; people say they cannot return home to Ethiopia until they see a political settlement, until they make sure the Tigray region is under the authority of a locally elected government.
In the early hours of November 4, the central government in Addis Ababa launched an offensive on Tigray to capture its leaders after what it described as a surprise attack by TPLF forces on army troops stationed in the region. region.
More than a month of fighting is believed to have killed thousands, displaced more than a million and pushed some 46,000 more into Sudan.
A week after the capture of Mekelle, the government says the conflict is approaching its final phase and is on the verge of capturing the TPLF leadership. The TPLF, however, says there is still fighting outside the regional capital.
Reporting near the border, Vall said refugees from Ethiopia reported cases of looting and witnessed “two rounds of violence: the first being the army coming to chase the rebels. [away], and the second [being] members of the local militia, in particular the Amhara militia called Fano, which comes after the defeat of the rebels to loot inside houses and expel civilians from their places ”.
Shimei Abra Adiko, an Ethiopian refugee in Sudan, said: “The militia said they would kill us because we are from Tigray. They told us: “You have 24 hours to go” and they started to loot our animals and our property. “
The TPLF also accused the forces of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of looting in Mekelle.
“[They are] Looting of civilian properties, hotels and factories damaged after the looting, ”TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda told a TPLF-owned television station.
The government has previously denied having targeted or discriminated against Tigrayans, insisting that its operations “primarily target disgruntled, reactionary and rogue members of the TPLF clique.”
With most internet and telephone communications in Tigray and access to the region severely restricted, it is difficult to verify statements from both sides.