The people of Ethiopia who escaped from the intense fighting in their northern homeland of Tigre by escaping into Sudan are now safe; But the terrible grief of what they saw haunted them.
75-year-old Gannet Gatherier, sitting alone in the dust at the Um Raqqaba refugee camp in the east of the country, said, “I saw the bodies of the blasts removed. The newly opened Sudan of over 27,000 to deal with the sudden floods.” People fleeing airstrikes, artillery barrages and massacres in Ethiopia.
“Other bodies were rotting, lying on the road, murdered with knives”, he said.
Being forced to flee their homes, separated from family members in a mad rush, and horrified after the murders, the refugees wander as if encamped.
“I lived with my three daughters,” Gazardier said, wearing a blue dress and white headscarf to protect her from the blazing sun. “When the shells started raining at our house, we all panicked and ran into darkness.”
The bombing not only destroyed her home in the western Tigray town of Hamir, allegedly the site of some of the heaviest fighting, but also separated her from her family.
Everyone is scattered, and she has yet to make contact with them.
“I met some friends who were running away, and I followed them,” she said. “I have looked around many times in search of my daughters, but no luck.”
It has received some help at Um Raqba, 80 kilometers (50 mi) from the border, but conditions are moderate, so far only basic emergency relief is available in the isolated camp.
She stops other Ethiopians to tell them her story, but no one pays attention. So many have terrible stories to tell.
“I have a daughter who lives in Khartoum, but I don’t know her,” she said quietly. “How can I find him in this big city?”
– Ethnic division –
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abi Ahmad announced on 4 November that he had ordered a military operation in Tigray in response to attacks by the regional ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Gerdo Burhan said the conflict made the ethnic division fatal.
If you are Tigrayan and captured by government troops, you are in trouble, the 24-year-old said.
“They ask you, pointed at you with a gun, if you belong to the Tigerman forces,” he said. “At the slightest hesitation, you are dead. They shoot you down and leave the body on the road.”
With him saying that you are a civilian, it does not matter, Burhan said.
“They kill you, sometimes kill you, or they take you to an unknown place with you – and I doubt if you come back from there,” he said. “This is terror.”
Burhan managed to escape towards Sudan, which was passing through hot bushes across the border, but on the way he was separated from his father, mother and two sisters.
“I don’t know if they’re alright,” he said.
Due to the sudden passage of long columns of refugees into Sudan, the government decided to reopen Um Raqqa, a camp closed 20 years ago.
It once housed refugees who fled Ethiopia’s 1983–85 famine, killing more than a million people. Thousands of refugees are now expected to live in the basic camp.
For those visiting Ethiopia, an initial sense of relief means that they are safe.
But for many, the guilt is soon over, as they sit and wait in the hope that someone they love – and who they were separated from in panic – can also change.
– ‘Slaughtered like sheep’ –
To escape, the Messiah Giddi is separated from his wife and four-year-old son – and he cannot forgive himself.
“I don’t know where they are, and if they are still alive,” he said.
Geidi comes from the Ethiopian city of Mai-Kadra, where Amnesty International said last week that “scores, and likely hundreds, of people were stabbed or cut.”
Geedi said, “I fled to Mai-Kadra, because the army slaughtered the soldiers like sheep.”
The United Nations Refugee Agency said the border region now faced a full-blown emergency.
“A full-scale humanitarian crisis is unfolding,” said UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch, noting that nearly 4,000 people were fleeing across the border every day.
The United Nations warned last week of possible war crimes in Tigray, and condemned “reports of targeted attacks against civilians based on their ethnicity or religion”.
Almost all journalists in Um Rakba speak that there is a sad story – except for the 32-year-old teacher, Takli Burhano.
Burhano, arrested in Mai-Kadra, said he was beaten from 4:00 am to 11:00 am. Then a soldier caught him, and decided to execute him.
But as he read about the death, another soldier stepped in to stop the killing.
“A soldier went to his commander and told him ‘you can’t do that, he was my teacher.” Burhano said. “he saved my life.”
ab / sk / PJM / LG / DV