Cholera outbreak and asylum struggles plague Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia

Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia (File photo: UNHCR)

As a result of the ongoing armed conflict in Sudan, nearly 80,000 people have sought refuge in Ethiopia, where they face a growing cholera outbreak and challenges maintaining their asylum status. Refugees are allegedly denied asylum in the capital, Addis Ababa, and required to return to Matama in the Amhara region near the Sudanese border.

According to a report published yesterday by the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ (OCHA) in Ethiopian, nearly 80,000 people have fled Sudan for Ethiopia since the outbreak of conflict in Sudan in mid-April.

As of September 8, there have been at least 225 confirmed cases of cholera at the Ethiopian Kumer refugee site near Amhara, along with three fatal cases of malaria reported among children at the Kurmuk Transit Centre on the Sudanese-Ethiopian border, OCHA said.

Medical sources in Sudanese refugee camps in northern Ethiopia reported that the number of cholera-related deaths surged to 80 cases. The disease has reportedly spread significantly within camps hosting Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia. The camps are short of food, and the people are suffering from malnutrition, and declining shelter and health conditions.

Many Sudanese sought refuge in the Benishangul-Gumuz area following clashes between the Sudanese army (SAF) and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) forces in the Blue Nile region.

Khalid Karam, spokesperson for the Sudanese Community in Ethiopia, told Radio Dabanga that refugees are facing dire circumstances, adding that they are mobilising a delegation, accompanied by media professionals, to investigate the conditions in the camps.

The community initiated a fundraising effort last week to address the plight of Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia. “We successfully collected SDG1.5 million and established a committee to assess the needs of Sudanese people in Ethiopia. The current plan involves distributing food coupons to Sudanese in need, allowing them to purchase food at discounted rates from Sudanese restaurants”, he told Radio Dabanga.

Monthly fee of $100

Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia expressed concerns about the country’s immigration laws, which require them to pay a monthly fee of $100 per person to renew their stay permit.

According to Karam, Ethiopian authorities deny asylum in the capital Addis Ababa and require refugees to return to Matama in the Amhara region, a town on the Sudanese border.

Bakri El Agami, along with many other Sudanese in Ethiopia, said he attempted to contact the UNHCR in Addis Ababa, but was redirected to other offices. “The UNHCR office handle requests of Eritreans and South Sudanese, and neglect those of Sudanese”, he claimed.

A Sudanese seeking refuge in Addis Ababa said that “families face barriers to enter the UNHCR office, are denied access to officials, lack asylum cards granting residency rights, and are tied to camps”. She highlighted the difficulties of staying in camps along the Sudanese-Ethiopian border due to deteriorating conditions, security concerns, and frequent protests in the vicinity.

El Agami stressed that Sudanese refugees are not granted the right to work under the current residency permit, and voiced surprise that the Ethiopian government did not exempt Sudanese from the requirement to renew their residency every month. He called upon Ethiopian authorities to consider granting annual residence cards for Sudanese people.

Osama Omar, a Sudanese refugee in Ethiopia, emphasised the Ethiopian government’s monthly residency renewal condition as a main challenge. He also pointed out high living costs, steep rent prices, and disparities in transportation and accommodation between foreigners and Ethiopians.

Muawiya Abdelrahman echoed similar concerns, underscoring the risk of failing to renew the residence permit due to financial constraints, “which will subject you to substantial fines of up to $3 per day, in addition to a $50 fee”.