It’s been six months since armed conflict broke out in Northern Ethiopia in the country’s Tigray region, displacing 2.2 million people. More than 60,000 people have fled the violence to seek refuge in neighbouring Sudan, many of whom are women and children. Plan International is working at the border areas in eastern Sudan to monitor and provide assistance to people crossing the border.
Hawa Eltigani, has been coordinating Plan International’s emergency response efforts at the border entry points since November 2020. Here she explains the current situation, our ongoing efforts to respond to the needs of new arrivals and what more needs to be done.
“In the beginning, our efforts were concentrated on saving lives. Many of the families arrived with nothing. Mothers only had their children on their backs and nothing else. They were sick and hungry. With the help of partner organisations, we identified the most vulnerable and ensured they received assistance, including referring those in need of urgent medical attention.
Currently efforts are slowly moving from lifesaving response to addressing more specific needs - setting up water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities as well as addressing child protection concerns. A lot of children arrive unaccompanied having been separated from their families.
Together with our partners, we work to reunite families as well as providing children with psychosocial support.
It’s hard watching families come off the boats. Many are tired, hungry, injured. Most tell us they have lost a number of their relatives. There is a lot of crying, shouting. People are frustrated.
One woman told me the last time she came to Sudan was as a refugee in 1974 when she was six years old. She remembers arriving with her mother who was very distraught. Years later, she can’t believe that she’s had to make the same journey. This time as a mother, with her own children.
A group three sisters who arrived together told us when they heard the fighting they just started running. Aged between 5 and 15 years old, they settled in together at the transit centre but were later separated when they were moved to separate camps. We are working to reunite them.
There’s a huge gap in health services. Many of the people arriving are sick and/or injured and in need of immediate assistance. They need medicine and we don’t have nearly enough in the camps. There is only one health centre with one room, five beds and few health care workers.
Because of the surging numbers of new arrivals, men and women are forced to use communal latrines and shower facilities. The nature of an emergency such as this one increases the exposure of girls and young women to sexual violence risks. They often experience a lack of privacy, adequate lighting and security in displacement settings such as temporary shelters and camps.
Due to a shortage in drinking and washing facilities in the camps, women also lack privacy and can’t find safe spaces to change their clothes or manage their menstrual health. This is compounded by their lack of clothes as most fled their homes with little warning and had no time to pack any belongings. There is a real need in the camps for clothes, shoes and blankets.
At the UmRakoba camp and Hamdayait transit centers where families first settle, Plan International is prioritising child protection and water hygiene and sanitation (WASH) as well as raising awareness about COVID-19. In December when families started moving to the first camp, we expanded our work to include life skills and gender-based violence training.
We operate a child-safe space at the Hamdayait transit centre and child and adolescent friendly spaces in UmRacoba camp, where children can take part in activities such as storytelling, building blocks, drawing, jumping ropes, football, board games, traditional dancing and personal hygiene sessions.
More than 3,700 children benefit from our services each week and our activities are implemented and supervised by community animators who are trained by our team in child protection, child rights and child-friendly space management.”