Exclusive – From hell to hell: Doctors Without Borders speaks on Tigray’s humanitarian crisis in Sudan Updated for 2021

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Updated: March 6, 2021

The guns may have been silenced, at least for now, and the boom! boom! boom! of aerial bombardments may have stopped in the Tigray’s region in northern Ethiopia, but the full scale humanitarian crisis unfolding in the region is just beginning.

Tens of thousands of people who fled to Sudan to seek refuge are now living under harrowing conditions with little to no water, food or sanitation. it’s like fleeing hell only to end up in hell again.

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In Sudan, Ethiopian refugees find themselves in a country facing an economic crisis and political uncertainty following a revolution that ended with the military deposing President Omar al-Bashir, after several decades in power.

The refugee crisis began on November 4, 2020, when the Ethiopian government began military operations in Tigray, one of the country’s semi-autonomous regions located on the northern border between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed described the offensive as a response to an attack on a federal military base by the ruling party in the region, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The TPLF led the former coalition that ruled Ethiopia for nearly three decades before Abiy took office in April 2018. The TPLF leaders rejected Abiy’s reason, describing it as an excuse to launch a long-planned offensive on Tigray.

The conflict has affected hundreds of thousands of people, leading to a humanitarian crisis, now on multiple fronts.

About 60,000 refugees have crossed from the Tigray region into Sudan, while close to a million Tigrayans have been internally displaced.

Jean-Nicolas Dangelser, Head of Mission in Sudan with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) spoke exclusively with Today News Africa’s Kristi Pelzel.

He said a challenge for his team was at the start of the mission, when tens of thousands of people were moved from the border area to Um Rakuba without any prior preparation of the site.

“There was very little shelter, almost none, very little water, and very little healthcare. Basically, people were dropped in the middle of the desert,” Dangelser said from Khartoum in Sudan.

According to him, refugees from Ethiopia are entering Sudan at three locations: Hamdayet in Kassala State, Sudan’s east, Gedaref State, in the southeast, and in the country’s Blue Nile State. MSF is currently providing aid at the Hamdayet border crossing point in Kassala State and in Um Rakuba camp in Gedaref State.

Dangelser said he was unaware of any support the Ethiopian government provides to Ethiopian citizens escaping into Sudan.

Despite a global pandemic, lack of sanitation and basic amenities, such as shelter and water, international development workers, like Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) continue to put their lives and safety on the line to support civilians, including women and children, caught in the middle of Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict. But more assistance is needed.

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Kristi Pelzel
Kristi Pelzel
Kristi Pelzel is a Senior International Correspondent at Today News Africa, working across U.S. and African markets, based in Washington, D.C. Her expertise spans broadcast, digital, and social media communication, nested with policy research, analysis, and writing. A member of the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Kristi holds a B.A. from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California, and an M.A. from Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

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