Displaced amid a pandemic

A patient meeting with a doctor.

In November 2020, war erupted in the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray. More than a million people have been displaced with over 60,000 Ethiopian refugees crossing the border into Sudan to seek safety from the violence devastating their homeland. Kidosan Yemani is one of the refugees who fled her home and arrived at the Um Rakuba camp in eastern Sudan with her husband, brother, and infant twins. “We had just woken up and washed our faces, and were preparing breakfast, when we heard heavy gunfire from afar,” Kidosan said.

Even after six months since the conflict began, Ethiopian refugees continue to arrive in Sudan. More than 20,000 refugees are living at the Um Rakuba camp and rely on the camp’s health clinic for care. Mercy Corps established the health clinic in partnership with the State Ministry of Health of Gedaref State of Sudan and hired health workers to meet the needs of people on the move. The clinic is essential for families like Kidosan’s, who routinely bring her infants in for check-ups. “I am very happy that my twins are healthy and survived these difficult times,” she said.

A person holding their children.
Kidosan Yemanim with her three-month-old twins at the Um Rakuba refugee camp. “I couldn’t take anything, and there was no one to help, so I escaped only with my husband and kids,” she said.

Since the camp began receiving refugees in November, a doctor and a staff of three nurses have consulted with almost 13,000 patients. The staff must balance treating common illnesses like diarrhea, respiratory infections, and malaria while also assessing potential COVID‑19 patients and preventing spread of the virus by moving patients into isolation tents. In addition to the immediate treatments, the clinic staff makes referrals for emergency care at the nearest hospitals, and trains refugee community advisors to set up parent support groups that provide information on mother and child health and nutrition.

 

Refugees like Giday Mohamed Abdulnoor are vital staff members in the clinic. She used to live in Humara, Ethiopia, until the war started. When she arrived in the camp she quickly offered her assistance at the health clinic, as she has extensive experience as a nurse and midwife, and speaks both Arabic and Tigray. She works alongside Dr. Mohamed Elmutasim Mahjoub Ahmed who was recruited from the nearby city of Gedaref. He left his positions as a lecturer and general practitioner at the university hospital to work at the clinic. “After one month of working there I feel myself like one of them, like one of the refugees,” he said. “They look like my people.”

A person standing outside their home.
Gigerebes Hayulis arrived at Um Rakuba with his daughters. He lived in Um Rakuba in the 1980’s—escaping a war-torn Ethiopia then—and wishes for peace so he and his family can return to their home once again.
A person cooking food.
Aida, Gigerebes Hayulis’ daughter, cooks dinner for her family. She is one of the more than 20,000 refugees living at Um Rakuba camp.

While the health clinic staff is providing the best care possible to meet the high demand of camp residents, seeing upwards of 50 patients a day, there’s a limited stock of medical supplies and medication. For Gigerebes Hayulis, who escaped with his daughters, it’s been difficult to deal with the lack of basic treatment. “My daughter has been sick,” he said. “There is no medicine even for simple things, like headaches.”

Gigerebes owned motels in Humara, Ethiopia, and was living with his wife, daughters and grandson. When conflict broke out in Tigray, he watched as all of his possessions were stolen or destroyed. Gigererbes’s arrival at Um Rakuba is actually a return. “My first time in Um Rakuba was in the 80’s, we came also to escape war then,” he said. He got married during his first stay at Um Rakuba, and two of his sons were born at Um Rakuba. “I went back home in 1986 and lived there peacefully until this war started.” Now his daughter is sick, and with COVID‑19 becoming more prevalent, he worries how that will affect the crowded camp.

“I hope we have peace soon,” he said. “We had it before, and peace was disrupted for the second time. I hope peace comes soon and we can go back and rebuild our homeland.”

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