Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia face violence and humanitarian crisis

May 30, 2024 (ADDIS ABABA) – A representative of Sudanese refugees in Awlala camp on the border with Ethiopia, Mohamed Hamid, revealed that there had been 1,700 incidents involving Ethiopian militias, including killings, looting, robberies, kidnappings and assaults.

The latest incident involved a group of Sudanese refugees who were kidnapped from an ambulance heading to Gondar hospital in the Amhara region for treatment.

Sudanese refugees in the Komer and Awlala camps in the Amhara region face extremely difficult conditions, with no humanitarian aid and no shelters to protect them from the rain and sun.

As of April 22, UNHCR estimates that more than 52,758 Sudanese refugees have crossed into Ethiopia, fleeing the war between the Sudanese army and the RSF. More than 22,000 are in the Amhara region, 7,780 in Tigray and 22,305 in Benishangul Gumuz.

Approximately 6,000 Sudanese refugees, who fled the conflict between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces since mid-April 2023, are currently in a forest without basic needs to survive.

The refugees initially stayed in the Kumer camp, but repeated attacks by Ethiopian Shifta gangs and other groups forced them to move to a forest 4 kilometers away, in search of safety.

A Sudanese refugee named Amir was killed a month ago when a rebel group shot him in the head to steal his mobile phone, according to the refugee spokesperson who spoke to Sudan Tribune.

Hamid confirmed that all meetings held with UNHCR failed to address critical security issues facing Sudanese refugees, including lack of security and frequent armed attacks and looting by Ethiopian militias.

Hamid noted that despite discussions with Ethiopian authorities and related organizations about the dire situation of the refugees, there has been an inadequate response. UNHCR has made further assistance conditional on refugees returning to Kumer camp considering their transfer to a third country, which is the refugees’ request.

Continued looting and violence against refugees have been reported; The last of them involved the theft of six tents under the threat of weapons and the expulsion of their occupants by the Ethiopian militias. Additionally, there are potential threats of deadly diseases such as cholera and kala-azar, according to residents near Awlala.

Hamid revealed that international organizations continue to neglect the plight of refugees, with five failed meetings with parties directly involved.

He highlighted practices against Sudanese refugees, such as denying or selling water at high prices, leading them to drink contaminated water. Hamid stressed that they will not accept unclear solutions without specific guarantees.

Hamid also reported on continuing threats to refugee security, including a recent intense exchange of fire between the Ethiopian federal army, federal police and some Ethiopian militias east of the forest where the refugees reside.

Hamid warned of an impending humanitarian disaster and possible deaths from starvation as refugees have been forced to go on hunger strike due to severe food shortages, noting that the remaining food is insufficient even for children.

In response, Khalid Shawish, a member of the leadership body of the Tagadum Coordination of Democratic Civil Forces, told the Sudan Tribune about a joint plan between the coalition and the Ethiopian Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs to organize urgent support for Sudanese refugees in those areas.

Shawish stated that the Ethiopian authorities are interested in solving all the problems faced by the Sudanese, including the refugee crisis at the border.

It accused unspecified entities of exploiting attacks on Sudanese refugees by “Ethiopian criminal groups” to suggest that Ethiopian authorities were targeting Sudanese refugees.

Shawish clarified: “What happened is that these criminal groups attacked the camp to steal food.”

In the same context, Munadil Al-Tayeb, Secretary of Sudanese Community Affairs in Ethiopia, called on all relevant parties to provide urgent assistance to Sudanese refugees at the border.

He emphasized that the current refugee situation requires immediate intervention to deliver aid and provide medical supplies and assistance.

UNHCR expresses concern

In a statement on May 28, UNHCR said it was “deeply concerned” about the security situation of Sudanese refugees who left the Awlala refugee site in Ethiopia on May 1 due to security incidents and lack of services. Some of these refugees went on hunger strike, further increasing their vulnerability.

UNHCR and Ethiopian authorities are working with refugees to find a solution. Still, the volatile security environment, including a recent incident that resulted in the death of an NGO worker, poses challenges, the refugee agency stressed.

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