Sudanese Refugees Trapped in Ethiopian Forest Amid Violent Attacks

Folks hunker down by improvised abodes near Awlala Camp, Amhara region, Ethiopia, dated May 31, 2024. Image courtesy of Alfatih Alsemari/Handout via REUTERS. For licensing inquiries, hit them up.

War-weary refugees escaping Sudan’s civil unrest for neighboring Ethiopia claim they’ve had to move again, seeking refuge in forests and along roadways after relentless assaults by armed assailants turned their tents into swiss cheese.

Around 8,000 souls vacated the Kumer and Awlala refugee camps, established by the United Nations in Ethiopia’s northern Amhara region, due to last month’s repeated ambushes, mostly by thieves, camp insiders informed Reuters.

They initially ran from clashes igniting between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in April 2023, which spurred severe famine and accusations of ethnic purges in Darfur.

“We fled our homeland because stray bullets from the army and RSF had us terrified,” one young lad shared over the phone with Reuters.

“We sought asylum in Ethiopia to escape death, but now face the same peril.”

He mentioned he initially left Sudan’s capital Khartoum, then exited the camps, now hiding out in a forest alongside others in Amhara – where local militias are feuding with Ethiopian federal troops in a separate conflict.

Photos shared via WhatsApp and Telegram depicted makeshift shelters crafted from branches and tarps, with numerous folks, including children, sitting roadside. Reuters confirmed the time and place of these images.

Like many others, the lad spoke under a veil of anonymity, fearing retribution. Their stories underline the bleak options for Sudanese refugees seeking sanctuary in conflicted nations with scant resources.

The Ethiopian government’s Refugee and Returnee Service held radio silence on commenting. Earlier in May, they mentioned efforts to address safety and service concerns amid stretched resources.

The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR directed Reuters to a statement from the prior week acknowledging security issues and an “intensely challenging” security landscape, without elaborating.

The statement noted increased police patrols and ongoing aid within the camps, urging around 1,000 individuals outside Awlala to return.

No immediate responses were available concerning differing population estimates involved.

Sudan’s conflict has spurred the world’s gravest displacement crisis, displacing over 8.9 million people, with more than 2.1 million fleeing the country; 122,000-plus have sought refuge in Ethiopia, per the International Organization for Migration.

Medical Teams International, operating a clinic nearby, reported last week that one staffer was fatally shot after armed attackers targeted a convoy.


Refugees now outside the camps shared tales of regular violence with Reuters. “People venture to the valley to bathe or wash clothes. But they get mugged, beaten, or kidnapped daily,” stated a camp leader.

“It’s disaster after disaster,” they added.

Cholera ravages Kumer, with barely a doctor in sight, confirming accounts from various refugees and an aid worker, who preferred anonymity. Monthly food supplies from the U.N.

World Food Programme stretch less than two weeks, two refugees conveyed to Reuters.

Three refugees collectively recounted that about 6,000 souls from Kumer and Awlala embarked on May 1 to trek 170 km (105 miles) to the UNHCR’s base in Gondar, Amhara’s main city, protesting dire conditions.

They were intercepted by police, seeking refuge in a forest near Awlala camp, said the three. Supplies dwindled, triggering a 10-day hunger strike, suspended after diaspora donations – the sole aid received thus far, recounted the trio.

Roughly 2,000 remained in Kumer but fled to a major road as gunmen opened fire on May 1, another refugee and a camp official said. Returnees discovered tents riddled with bullets, persuading them the goal was eviction.

Aid efforts have been thwarted by security issues and funding shortages, according to anonymous aid workers.

The U.N. notes a mere $400,000 of the $175 million funding requested for Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia has been obtained.

Reporting by Nafisa Eltahir; additional reporting by Dawit Endeshaw in Addis Ababa and Milan Pavicic in Gdansk; editing by Aidan Lewis and Andrew Heavens.

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