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On 4 November, the tensions that had long been simmering 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. More than 50,000 of them have so far sought shelter in eastern Sudan. Almost half of the arrivals are children below the age of 18.
Sudan has kept its borders open and the host community is willing to share the existing resources. However, the desperately poor country, which is itself experiencing a severe economic crisis, cannot ensure the protection and humane survival of the Ethiopians. They live in improvised camps along the border, or in Um Rakuba, so far the only official refugee camp which was rapidly set up – under the most difficult humanitarian conditions. There is a general lack of basic hygiene infrastructure such as clean water or latrines, which is particularly devastating in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. Women and girls are exposed to gender-based violence.
Improving hygiene and protecting women and girls
Caritas Switzerland, active in Ethiopia for more than 40 years and also well-established in Sudan, is not abandoning these people. We support the work of the British aid agency CAFOD – a long-term partner of Caritas in Sudan - and Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) to improve access to essential sanitation for the refugees. The plan is to provide drinking water, build gender-segregated communal toilets, bathing and washing facilities, and establish a waste disposal system. Camp residents working as volunteers inform their communities about good hygiene practices. At the same time, the project provides support and counselling to women and girls who have experienced sexual violence during their flight. This project will reach a total of 20,000 to 30,000 refugees in eight months.
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.