Since the war in Tigray began in November, almost two million people have been displaced from their homes, moving to towns elsewhere in Ethiopia and across the border into Sudan.
Since Nov. 7, more than 63,000 Ethiopians have sought refuge in eastern Sudan, according to the United Nations refugee agency. Many arrived in border towns like Hamdayet carrying few belongings and were eventually moved to refugee camps dotted across the eastern Sudanese states of Gedaref and Kassala.
Most fleeing across the border were men, many of whom said they feared that government-allied militias and security forces would kill them on the spot, according to interviews with several refugees who had arrived in Sudan. And children made up more than a third of the asylum seekers.
In the eight months since the war began, the refugee camps in Sudan have become evermore permanent, with round “tukul” huts made of mud and grass, makeshift schools, and tea and coffee shops sprouting up. Yet even as they are safe from the violence at home, Ethiopian refugees in Sudan are contending with a change in weather conditions. After months of enduring scorching heat, the long rains in Sudan, which last from May to October, have caused floods and damaged shelters and latrines, according to the United Nations.
“The wind and rain destroyed what we had,” Meresiet Gebrewahid, who lives in the one of the camps, said in a telephone interview. Ms. Meresiet lives in the regional Tigray capital, Mekelle, and was visiting family in the agricultural town of Humera near Ethiopia’s border with Eritrea when the war began.
“It’s not been easy,” she said. “I miss home.”
In Ethiopia, more than 1.7 million people have been displaced in the northern Tigray region, according to the International Organization for Migration. As the war has intensified, displaced people have also sought protection in major towns in northern Tigray, like Shire and Adwa, each of which is hosting hundreds of thousands of people. Tens of thousands have also been displaced in the neighboring Afar and Amhara regions.
Besides food insecurity and malnutrition, humanitarian organizations remain concerned about overcrowding, poor hygiene and coronavirus outbreaks in the camps. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said that security forces arbitrarily arrested and beat displaced people in Shire in late May.
With Tigrayan rebels entering Mekelle on Monday night, refugees like Ms. Meresiet said they hoped it would mark the beginning of their return home.
“The last eight months have been the most difficult, but I am feeling good today,” she said, laughing over the phone. “It’s like my birthday,” she said, adding, “Last night was hopeful for Tigrayans. We need our people to be free.”