Desperate Sudanese refugees in Amhara demand evacuation to a safer area

Thousands of Sudanese refugees sheltering in Kumer and Awlala, Amhara in Ethiopia, staged demonstrations on Tuesday, in protest against the rampant insecurity in the area. The day before, a young refugee was shot in the head by Ethiopian gunmen in the Kumer refugee site. Jurists in Kumer have requested the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to move the people to more secure places, where water and food are better provided as well.

Yousef Omar, spokesperson for the Kumer Refugees Committee, told Radio Dabanga that Amir Hasan (18) was seriously injured when armed robbers shot him in the back of the head after he refused to hand them his telephone at the town’s market.

“The bullet exited through his mouth,” he said. “Amir was first taken to a health unit at the Kumer camp, then to Shahidi in critical health condition.”

In response, the thousands of refugees, the majority being Sudanese, sheltering in the Kumer and Awlala sites*, went to the street to demand security and an end to attacks from the groups of armed bandits (called shifta in Ethiopia) creating havoc in the area.

Refugees in Kumer and Awlala intend to march to Gondar, about 200 kilometres to the east, in the beginning of May, to set up a sit-in in front of the UNHCR office in the town to demand security or their evacuation to other, safer areas.

Several meetings with the authorities in Gondar, representatives of the local community and the UNHCR to discuss the security situation did not lead to improvement of the situation as “the authorities were unable to determine measures to stop the militants,” Omar reported.

“The people sheltering in Awlala and Kumer have lost hope due to the security threats and the dire humanitarian conditions in the camps, leading to the departure of a number of refugees already,” he explained and  expressed his hope that the UNHCR “will respond soon to our urgent memorandum and transfer us to a better place”.

Refugees continue to be transported from the Metema transit centre to the Awlala site in Amhara (Photo: FB page of Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia)

Memorandum

Jurists in Kumer, about 70 kilometres from the border crossing in Metema and hosting about 8,000 refugees, have formed a Legal Committee, representing the Sudanese refugees as well as Eritrean and South Sudanese refugees who also fled Sudan after war broke out between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in mid-April last year.

The four members, two Sudanese, an Eritrean and a South Sudanese national last week handed a memorandum to a UNHCR representative during his visit to Kumer, in which they note that “the Ethiopian authorities themselves have acknowledged the instability, lack of security, and unsafety of this region,” which is also “obvious in the emergency procedures” and the “common habit” of the Amharas to carry guns.

The memorandum states that that more than 10 per cent of the refugees in Kumer have been assaulted since the establishment of the refugee site in May 2023.

At least 743 crimes have been documented since this date. Threats with guns and forced searches amounted to 280 incidents. This insecurity worsens the suffering to the refugees as “most of the refugees in this settlement are coming here with psychological trauma from the fighting in Khartoum,” the memo reads.

“This habit of moving around carrying guns, is the main cause of violations committed against the refugees because the victims are not equal to the perpetrators as the cannot defend themselves.”

The memorandum details several incidents of “murder, serious harm, looting, death threats, random shooting, and restriction of the movement of refugees”. It mentions robbery, abduction, threatening by guns, forcible searching, beating with big sticks, and “many other sorts of violations, increasing daily in this settlement. [..] The number of crimes committed is increasing, with perpetrators escaping justice and the authorities unable to provide security.”

The Legal Committee further laments the lack of drinking water and food, and the poor health care and education in the refugee sites. Referring to the right of refugees to live in safe surroundings, the “representatives of the refugees in Kumer and Awlala” call for evacuation to a better secured place.

Refugee sites in Amhara, January 2024 (Part of UNHCR map of refugee camps, sites, and offices in Ethiopia)

Numbers

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Sudan, more than 8.6 million people in Sudan have fled their homes as of 31 March this year. Over 6.6 million of them are sheltering mainly with host communities in 7,076 locations across Sudan’s 18 states, according to the International Organization for Migration’s Displacement Tracking Matrix.

Out of the two million people that fled the country, about 1.8 million have sought refuge in neighbouring countries (Egypt, Chad, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, and South Sudan. With close to four million children displaced, Sudan is facing the largest child displacement crisis in the world, OCHA reported on April 15, one year after the SAF-RSF war broke out.

According to the UNHCR, Ethiopia hosted over a million refugees and asylum seekers on March 31, among them more than 91,000 Sudanese nationals.

Radio Dabanga did not receive a response to its mail to the UNHCR headquarters in Geneva about the subject so far. Attempts to contact the UNHCR teams in Addis Ababa and Gondar and the authorities in Gondar by telephone, also did not succeed.


* Three locations in Amhara, not far from the Sudanese border, are sheltering refugees from Sudan: Awlala, established this year, Kumer, set up in May last year, and the refugee transit/reception centre in Metema at the border. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) divides mass shelters into refugee camps, refugee sites, refugee locations, and urban refugee locations.  

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