Seven months ago, life for 40-year-old Burhani felt peaceful and safe. Living in Humera, Ethiopia, Burhani owned a small retail store and the business was prosperous. The conditions in the city were stable and his store was bringing in enough income to provide for his wife and one-year-old son. But then war broke out.

In the first week of November 2020, the situation escalated dramatically. Armed conflict erupted in Ethiopia, between federal and provincial forces in the northern region where Burhani’s hometown is located. Burhani explained,

“We woke up on the morning of the seventh November to the sounds of cannons and gunfire everywhere.”

He described the horrors he witnessed. Dead bodies piled in the streets. Burhani was forced to escape Humera. With his wife and son, he fled his house and left the city quickly.

“We didn’t have time to take anything with us, except for the clothes we were wearing.”

Burhani lost his store, his source of income, his home and all of their family assets. The outbreak of war left him and his family with nothing.  They began the long journey to reach safety.

An Ethiopian man holding his son sitting outside
Burhani holds his one-year-old son. [Photo by ZOA.]

A Difficult Journey

It took three horrifying days to get to Hamdayet, a Sudanese town bordering Ethiopia. The journey to Hamdayet is long and dangerous. Many Ethiopians face the threat of violence on the journey.

“We didn’t have food or water and it was extremely risky to go all the way from Humera to Sudan’s borders with a child on your shoulders but we had no other opportunities,” Burhani points out, “we were just determined to save the child whatever the cost so we continued to walk despite our hunger, thirst and fears.

Fortunately, Burhani came across a few herdsmen on the journey who were willing to provide his family with some food and water.

Once they reached the edge of Ethiopia, the last hurdle they faced in the long journey was crossing the Tekeze River. One side is the contested border area between Ethiopia and Sudan and Hamdayet is just on the other side. Refugees pack into crowded boats on the rocky shores to get across. Like Burhani, many people are carrying the only belongings they have left on their backs.

Ethiopian refugees crossing the Tekeze River in a boat. Photo by Joost Bastmeijer.
Ethiopian refugees crossing the Tekeze River to Hamdayet. [Photo by Joost Bastmeijer.]
When he reached Hamdayet, Burhani was welcomed by humanitarian workers who brought him and his family to the Um Rakouba Refugee Camp in East Sudan. As residents of the camp, Burhani, his wife, and their son are trying to cope with their new life as refugees. Burhani often thinks of the fates of his relatives, friends and neighbors.

“I have recently learned two of my brothers with their families are still lost,” Burhani says with grief in his eyes. He hopes that they are safe. He longs for them to be able to make their way to the nearest refugee reception center in Sudan as well.

Burhani with his wife and son in Um Rakouba Refugee Camp
Burhani with his wife and son in Um Rakouba Refugee Camp. [Photo by ZOA.]

In the Refugee Camp

When Burhani and his family arrived, the refugee camp was still under construction. Burhani’s family spent the first 18 days sleeping on the ground but then received a shelter from the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR. After a long journey without enough food or water, now Burhani receives food provided by the World Food Programme and is able to get water 2-3 times a day. 

Burhani carries water to his tent in Um Rakouba
Burhani carries water from the only water source in the camp. [Photo by ZOA.]
Since November 2020, over 60,000 refugees have arrived in Sudan. Each with their own story, their own losses, just like Burhani’s.

Attacks have forced over two million people from their homes. Some arrive with wounds at the border. As refugee camps fill, there’s a shortage of food and medical supplies.

Inside refugee camps, medical care is a primary concern and access is very limited due to shortages of medical supplies and funding. With inadequate water and sanitation, there is a high risk of exposure to communicable diseases. In the region, there are also several deadly diseases present, such as cholera, measles, and malaria. Concerns about malnutrition are growing as food is in short supply.

A crowd of Ethiopian refugees in village 8, Sudan. Photo by Joost Bastmeijer.
Refugees arriving in East Sudan. [Photo by Joost Bastmeijer.]
Medical Teams International has worked with partners and established a medical clinic in Um Rakouba Refugee Camp, where Burhani lives. Our team in Sudan is screening for malnutrition, treating infectious diseases and other illnesses, and providing wound care. The clinic will also be setting up comprehensive reproductive health care including care for pregnant women and victims of sexual violence.

A team of local volunteers, called Community Health Workers, have been trained and are providing health messages in the community. The Community Health Workers also monitor for the outbreak of illnesses including COVID-19 and refer those who are sick to health clinics.

Story provided by ZOA. 

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