Hano Yagoub, acting emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Gedaref, Sudan, describes the situation in Um Rakuba camp, where 15,000 people are sheltering after fleeing violence in Ethiopia
“When I reached Um Rakuba camp in the middle of November, people were arriving in big numbers. More and more people continue to come here every day: old people, kids, small children, pregnant women, though the majority are young people between 15 to 25 years of age.
They speak about the sudden, shocking experience when fighting erupted in their area of Ethiopia and about how terrified they were. All in one moment, they fled in the direction of Sudan.
They had no time to think about anything other than fleeing. They didn’t even have the chance to harvest their crops or to take some cash out of the bank. Most didn’t manage to bring anything with them, just the clothes on their bodies. They still don’t know what happened to what they left behind.
People came from different locations and struggled through rough mountainous terrain with lots of hills and rivers to cross. Some people travelled in tractors, but most were on foot.
Around 52,000 refugees have arrived in Sudan so far, through Hamdayet in Kassala state and Village No 8 in Gedaref state, on the Sudanese Ethiopian border, before being relocated to Um Rakuba camp.
On November 16, MSF started running a clinic in Um Rakuba camp. After the long and arduous journey, people were extremely fatigued, and coping with the sudden change in living conditions, the change in weather, the change in food.
During the first weeks, conditions in the camp were especially bad and services were limited. It wasn’t a good situation for the refugees – there was a shortage of water and food; there weren’t enough shelters or sanitation stations. Without enough latrines, people found themselves obliged to defecate in the open.
Gradually, things have got better and every day there is some improvement, but people’s living conditions are still challenging. The scale of needs is alarming—they require more shelters, water, food, essential relief items, and improved sanitation.
The initial capacity in Um Rakuba camp was 6,000 people. A new extension to the camp is currently being built, which means there will be capacity for 30,000 people. Around 15,000 people are here right now, so it’s very crowded. Some are staying in shelters built from grass and wood; some are in tents; others are in big tents sheltering multiple families.
It’s the start of winter, so it’s hot during the day but very cold at night—the refugees need better protection from the weather.
Water is trucked into the camp and stored in big bladders. Food is distributed by the World Food Program, either as ready meals or as rations that people can cook for themselves. Some essential relief items have been distributed, but not enough to go around.
In our clinic in the camp, we are doing our best to address people’s health needs. Our medical team provides general health care, sexual and reproductive health care, antenatal care and safe deliveries. Most of the medical team are refugees themselves. The idea is to cover the whole primary health package—we have nurses, doctors. and midwives, as well as about 10 international staff.
We also do referrals, transporting pregnant women with complications and critical patients to hospitals in Gedaref or Dokka. This can be a challenge from Village No 8, as the journey to the hospital involves crossing a river and the ferry is often broken. Sometimes you have to wait a day for it to be fixed, which is very challenging when you have a patient in a life-threatening condition.
Our teams are providing support with water and sanitation, doing additional water trucking and chlorination and providing big bladders to store it in. They are also constructing latrines and handwashing points throughout the camp to avoid continued open defecation that could create an environmental disaster.
In the coming weeks, the number of people relocated here from Hamdayet is going to increase. Humanitarian organizations need to accelerate their efforts to support the refugees and their growing needs, otherwise it will be a disaster.”