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On 4 November, the long-simmering tensions between the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian government, escalated. Since then, the conflict has forced tens of thousands of people to flee. So far, over 50 000 of them, almost half of them children under 18, have sought refuge in eastern Sudan.
Sudan has kept its borders open and the host community willingly shares the existing resources. However, this desperately poor country is itself suffering from a severe economic crisis, so cannot ensure proper protection and dignified survival of the Ethiopians. They live under extremely difficult humanitarian conditions in improvised camps along the border or in the sole official refugee camp at Um Rakuba, hastily built by the authorities. Basic hygiene facilities, even such as clean water or latrines is lacking everywhere, a particularly worrying factor in light of the Covid 19 pandemic. Women and girls are exposed to sexual violence.
Improving hygiene and protecting women and girls
Caritas Switzerland, active in Ethiopia for over 40 years and also well established in Sudan, is not going to abandon these people. We are supporting the commitment of the British agency CAFOD - a long-standing partner of Caritas in Sudan - and Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), to improve access to vital hygiene facilities for the refugees. The plan is to provide drinking water, build gender-segregated communal toilets, bathrooms and washing facilities, and establish a waste disposal system. Volunteers from among the camp residents are explaining good hygiene habits to their communities. Also, women and girls who have been subjected to sexual violence during their flight are being offered help and counselling. This project is intended to reach a total of
20 000 to 30 000 refugees within eight months.
Sudan still has a daily influx of several hundred refugees. It is impossible to predict future developments. The situation is extremely unstable, not just in Tigray, but also in the border region between Ethiopia and Eritrea, where it has been very volatile for a long time, and along the Sudanese border. It is estimated that by April 2021, the number of refugees in Sudan will rise to 100 000, and in the worst-case situation may even reach 200 000. It is to be feared that fleeing and suffering are far from over for the populace of northern Ethiopia. Caritas is closely monitoring the situation and will broaden the scope of its aid if necessary.
Several hundred people still arrive in Sudan every day. What happens in the future is impossible to predict. The situation in Tigray, but also in the border region between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which has been very volatile for a long time, as well as on the Sudanese border, is extremely unstable. It is estimated that the number of refugees in Sudan will rise to 100,000 by April 2021, or even 200,000 in the worst-case scenario. The fear is that, for the civilian population of northern Ethiopia, flight and suffering are far from over. Caritas is watching the situation carefully and will extend its aid if necessary.