The onset of clashes last November between the government forces and armed groups in the northern Ethiopian state of Tigray resulted in an enormous number of displaced people in the neighboring countries. Of these, more than 60,000 have fled to refugee camps in eastern Sudan where the water and sanitation conditions are critically insufficient. Amid the global pandemic, the refugees are also at a high risk of COVID-19 infection as a result. To address these issues, AAR Japan started emergency relief activities such as distributing hygiene kits and installing water tanks in cooperation with a local partner organization.
The newly established Tunaydbah Refugee Camp in Gedaref State, Sudan, is home to approximately 8,800 families with 19,500 individuals. Their living conditions have been devastated in the current rainy season – tents were broken by strong wind and heavy rain; paths and outdoor toilets were flooded by poor drainage. Adding to the concerns of COVID-19 outbreak, cases of hepatitis E have been reported in the camp. To improve and mitigate poor sanitary conditions, AAR will; 1) distribute hygiene items (masks, soap, dustbins, mosquito nets, etc.), 2) set up water facilities (40 water tanks and 30 hand-washing stations), 3) offer awareness-raising activities on hygiene precautions including COVID-19 measures.
Here are some of the voices of refugees in the Tunaydbah Refugee Camp during the needs assessment for these activities.
Ms. Mebrit (31 years old, female)
We were living in a town near the border with Sudan. One night in November last year, an air raid suddenly started, and my husband and I crossed the border with our two daughters aged eight and one. Unfortunately, I could not bring my parents with me and left them in the town in the urgent situation. After we were received by the Sudanese border guards, we stayed in a simple tent for two months, then relocated to Tunaydbah.
In Ethiopia, I had a job, and life was comfortable. I was a teacher, and my husband was a farmer. Here, however, we spend most of our time only doing housework, even though I sometimes attend embroidery and sewing courses at the women's center. When the conflict is over and it becomes safe, I would like to return to my home country, otherwise, I will have to stay in Sudan.
Mr. Birhan (30 years old, male)
It was all of sudden. I woke up in the morning and found the world changed. The only thing I could do was to take my family to flee to Sudan. I was sure that we will be in hell if we stayed in Tigray. On the way to Sudan, we saw many people lying on the roadside. We just walked and walked without eating or drinking.
In the refugee camp, I help support aid organizations and participate in hygiene awareness sessions to keep my family healthy.
It's deplorable to live in this flooded place with poor sanitary conditions. In addition, we cannot eat well or work here either. I often talk with acquaintances about our future and share information about Tigray. Of course, I would like to go back home as soon as we can.
Ms. Danat (18 years old, female)
I jumped out of my bed at 5 am from the bombing sounds. Then I rushed to the Sudanese border with my parents. During the evacuation, there were children, women, and elderly people randomly gathered together. We were all under the horrible fear that we would be caught, killed, or sexually assaulted. Luckily, the Sudanese border guards gave us shelters.
Like other women, I do housework for my family and sometimes spend time at the women's center. Unlike in Tigray, the refugee camp is safe, but I would like to return home if peace is assured. Having seen so many deaths, violence and people forced to flee their homes, something came into my mind. I would like to engage myself in peacebuilding for future generations.
AAR has rich experience in aid activities to improve water sanitation conditions and fight against infectious diseases in Sudan. Therefore, we will utilize such knowledge and skills as well as networks to support Ethiopian refugees.
Your understanding and warmest support will be highly appreciated.