Long lines of people are waiting outside the NRC office in Um Rakuba camp. 

Most of the refugees waiting are young men, which makes up a majority of the ones who have fled Ethiopia.  We were told stories of fear of recruitment to the militia, or of being killed if suspected to belong to TPLF. 

Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC
Tigray

Meet the people forced to flee Ethiopia's Tigray region

They are mothers, fathers and children. They are students, teachers, farmers and tailors. They are all fleeing to save their lives.

Tigray is the northernmost region of Ethiopia. Violence broke out here in November 2020 and is still ongoing. The conflict has forced at least 55,000 people, many of them families, to cross the border into neighbouring Sudan.

Over 20,000 refugees are now living in Um Raquba camp, where the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is on the ground, providing emergency assistance for the new arrivals.

We spoke to some of the people who have reached safety.

Melashu, 65 years old fled with her family of 6 and some of her close neighbours from Tigray to Sudan two weeks ago.  

"We saw many dead bodies along the road when we fled. No one was burying them", she told NRC. 

"My son-in-law is missing. Some of my closest neighbours are missing too. I have not been able to reach them. I worry."

Photo credit: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC
Read caption Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC

“We saw many dead bodies”

Melashu is 65 years old. She fled Tigray in November with her family of six and some of her neighbours. They found safety at Um Raquba camp.

“We saw many dead bodies along the road when we fled,” Melashu told us. “No-one was burying them.”

“My son-in-law is missing. Some of my closest neighbours are missing too. I have not been able to reach them. I am worried.”

The food is scarce in the camp so far, and Melashu is concerned. With no income and no land to farm, she faces an uncertain future.

Ashenafi, 19 years old,  fled alone from Ethiopia and has not heard from his family since then. He arrived two weeks ago and lives with 14 other people in what used to be a school from when the camp was last open and hosted Ethiopian refugees during the big famine in the 1980s. The roof is partly missing and the living conditions are dire. 

"I saw they were killing young men, so I fled. Here I feel safe," he tells NRC. 

Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC
Read caption Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC

“I saw they were killing young men”

Ashenafi is just 19 years old. He fled Tigray alone and has not heard from his family since.

“I saw they were killing young men, so I fled,” he says. “Here I feel safe.”

He is now living in Um Raquba with 14 other people in a derelict building. The building used to be a school when the camp was last open in the 1980s, hosting Ethiopian refugees during the infamous famine. The roof is partly missing, and the living conditions are dire.

Leilti (30), her husband Gebreyesus (42) and their daughter Lela (3) are tired after their first night sleeping under the open in Um Rakuba camp. They arrived with the rest of the family of five the day before and are waiting together with a big group of new arrivals close to the entry of the camp. Leilti is five months pregnant, and found the journey to Sudan very hard.

"I wish I don't have to give birth to my baby in this place, " she tells NRC. 

Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC
Read caption Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC

A hard journey

Leilti, 30, her husband Gebreyesus, 42, and her daughter Lela, 3, are tired after their first night sleeping under the open sky in Um Rakuba camp.

They arrived with the rest of their family the day before and are waiting together with a big group of new arrivals close to the entrance of the camp.

Leilti is five months pregnant and found the journey to Sudan very hard.

“I wish I didn’t have to give birth to my baby in this place,” she told us.

Tirhaz, 25, was actually born in Um Rakuba camp, when her parents came there during the famine almost twenty years ago. They left the camp, and her father collected and transported water for a living. When he died, her family faced many problems. She had one seven year-old son, who was with her cousin. When the fighting broke out, she was heavily pregnant. She gave birth on the way to the border crossing. Other women passing by helped tend to her, as she gave birth to her second son. He sleeps next to her in the communal refugee tent. She has barely enough milk to feed him.

Photo Credit: Will Carter/NRC
Read caption Photo: Will Carter/NRC

She gave birth on the way

This is Tirhaz, 25, and her newborn son. When the fighting broke out in Tigray, Tirhaz was heavily pregnant, but she had no choice but to flee in the hope she’d reach safety before her labour began.

She gave birth on her way to the border crossing. Other women who were making the same journey stopped to tend her.

After the birth, she gathered all her remaining strength and crossed the border with her newborn in her arms. They arrived in Um Rakuba camp, where her son now sleeps next to her in the communal refugee tent. She has barely enough milk to feed him.

Ebrahim, 24 years old, has set up a small tailor shop in Um Rakuba camp. The only one so far in the camp. Business is good as many refugees had their clothes thorn during the long days of travel. He shares the income with the owner of the sewing machine.

Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC
Read caption Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC

Making the best of his new situation

Even in such difficult conditions, some young entrepreneurs are thriving.

Ebrahim, 24, has harnessed his skills to set up a small tailoring shop in Um Rakuba camp. Business is good, as many refugees damaged their clothes during the long and difficult journey.

Ebrahim shares the income with the owner of the sewing machine. He and the other refugees here are determined to make the best of their situation.

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NRC is providing cash and shelter assistance. We have also set up an emergency school serving over 1,100 children. We have also provided multipurpose cash assistance to over 7,650 families and collaborated with local traders to set up small businesses where refugees can buy additional essentials.