Blog post by Daw Mohamed, Acting Country Director for CARE Switzerland in Sudan. Daw Mohamed has over 30 years of experience with CARE International, working in countries including Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the USA and Yemen. Daw is an Economist/Statistician and has a strong background in disaster management and emergency response. Daw’s experience within CARE covers a wide range of relief, rehabilitation and development programming.
During my recent visit to the Ethiopian Tigray refugees in Um camp, eastern Sudan I saw a devastating humanitarian situation. The camp has population of over 15,000 out of the total 50,000 refugees that have fled to Sudan, and there are daily arrivals at a rate of 500 – 1000 people from the other reception camps. This has made the camp extremely overcrowded and I literally saw people running over each other during the registration and services delivery processes trying to access assistance. There is no adequate shelter, food, water and sanitation or health services. I saw many refugees living under trees and in poor shelter built from local materials or tents, that are hosting large families for more than one to two weeks. My deep concern is that many more refugees are arriving into the camp that is already overwhelmed. Open defecation is already an issue, and if this and the overcrowding continues, disease, especially COVID-19, will run rampant and we will face an unprecedented disaster. An outbreak of any disease, which is very likely in such crowded and unhealthy living conditions, would be a disaster, not only for those living in the camp, but for the entire hosting community of Um .
During my visit I heard so many heart-breaking stories from the Ethiopian Tigray refugees who fled their villages, arriving with nothing. Most of them told us that they had to walk for 2-3 days to reach the reception camps in Sudan, arriving weak and exhausted. 60-year-old Kigani , who arrived with his 6 children, told me that and his children walked for 3 days to reach the reception camp in Sudan. He is half blind and told us how he nearly lost his two youngest children who had not had anything to eat or drink for two days. “They were slaughtering people with knives, axes and machetes so we had to find ways to avoid their locations,” he told me, starting to cry. He then put his hands over his face, saying “oh my God … my wife, my wife…” and proceeded to tell us that he had left his 9 months pregnant wife behind as she could not walk, and had lost contact with her. He wasn’t sure about her fate and if she is still alive or not. There are so many heart-breaking stories like this.
Humanitarian workers are struggling to keep up with the flow of refugees and to build up an infrastructure to accommodate them. People need shelter, food, water, latrines, health services and sanitation. Some also said they need clothes, as they came with nothing but what they were wearing at the time. Special attention must also be given to women, girls, the elderly and people with special needs who are some of the most vulnerable. It is heart-breaking when you hear of older people, pregnant women and mothers with children being pushed away by youngsters during distribution of relief items. One woman told us that a few days before our visit, two women had experienced miscarriages when they were pushed and fell in a crowd of people who were trying to access food.
CARE, together with several other agencies are trying our best to assist the newly arriving refugees, but whatever has been provided so far is a drop in the ocean given the volume of the need and the numbers of refugees. CARE has presence in both Um and Village 8 camps and is working with the local authorities, partners and refugee volunteers to scale up its humanitarian response. It is crucial that donor organisations and nations help to provide adequate flexible funding, to enable us to speed up and sustain the scale up of our humanitarian response for the refugees and the hosting communities, so that an awful situation does not get even worse.