Tigray Crisis in Ethiopia: “How the conflict made my uncle a refugee in Sudan”

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legendMany fleeing conflict in Ethiopia cross Sudan by river

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A BBC reporter writes about a relative forced to flee Ethiopia’s Tigray region following the outbreak of conflict between federal and regional troops.
A businessman and farm owner, my uncle became a refugee in Sudan, along with tens of thousands of others. He doesn’t even have a pair of shoes, having lost them while fleeing Tigray on foot and by boat.
He didn’t expect a conflict to break out. So, at the beginning of November, he embarked on a half-day trip from his home near the town of Adwa in central Tigray to the agricultural center of Humera in the west, leaving his wife and her two children behind.
This is what he normally does at this time of year, going to his farm in Humera to harvest his crops of sesame and sorghum for sale in the markets of Tigray and Sudan.
Then his life – like that of many others in Tigray, which has a population of around eight million – was turned upside down.

Investment corridor affected by fighting

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced that he had ordered a military operation to oust the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) from power in Tigray because, he said, it had crossed the “last red line” by taking control of federal military bases in the region.
Tensions had been escalating for some time, with the TPLF-controlled regional government holding elections in Tigray in September, in defiance of a federal decision to postpone all elections, which were due to take place in August, due to of the coronavirus.

image copyrightGetty Images
legendTigrayans voted in an election in September – a move criticized by the federal government
Mr Abiy condemned the regional elections as illegal while the TPLF said it no longer believed he was legitimately in office because his term as governor had expired.
About a week after the start of the conflict, on November 4, Ethiopian troops – supported by special forces and militias from the neighboring Amhara regional government – captured Humera from government forces in Tigray.
Humera has a population of around 30,000 and was part of an investment corridor aimed at boosting development. Its crops – especially sesame and cotton – are exported, notably to the United States and China.
This is unlikely to happen this year. My uncle said he saw crops burnt down during the conflict, but he doesn’t know if his was affected.

‘My uncle fled at night’

The military operation broke ethnic tensions, with Tigrayan and Amhara civilians killed in the fighting for control of Tigray, though rival forces deny targeting civilians.
My uncle’s name is Tigrayan and, he said, there has been a lot of looting of Tigrayan property and killings. He said he realized how much his life was in danger when he noticed the Amhara workers – who had worked and lived in peace with them – were now telling the special forces and Amhara militias where find Tigrayans in Humera.

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Learn more about the Tigray crisis:

media legendThree consequences of the current crisis in Tigray

  • Fears of ethnic profiling ravage Ethiopia’s conflict

  • Ethiopian soldiers accused of blocking border with Sudan
  • Browned by conflict: “My little brother needs medicine”
  • Can Ethiopia ignore African diplomats?
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My uncle said there had also been heavy shelling from the leadership of Eritrea, although the governments of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and Mr Abiy denied that Eritrea joined the military operation against the Eritrean. government of Tigray.

Fearing for his life, my uncle surreptitiously left Humera at night, without any of his personal belongings, traveling a long way until he reached the Tekeze River. There he found hundreds of other Tigrayans. They all got on boats to enter Sudan.
He said he was relieved to reach the UN refugee center, but, he told me, the tents were so crowded that he was sleeping in the open.
media legendBBC’s Anne Soy talks about refugee camp on Sudan-Ethiopia border
He called me from a Sudanese cell phone number, saying he borrowed someone’s phone because his Ethiopian number was not working at the refugee center.
After this conversation more than two weeks ago, I haven’t heard from him and couldn’t speak to him. With phone lines still down in many parts of Tigray, his wife and children are unaware that he has become a refugee in Sudan.

‘The air strike moved my family’

And I can’t say if his family fled their home – Adwa was one of the towns that Ethiopian troops took before they captured Mekelle, the capital of the Tigray region.
My parents and siblings live in Mekelle, and I – like thousands of other members of the diaspora – don’t know if they survived the gunfire and bombardment that hit the city for most of Saturday. .

Map of the Tigray region

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The International Committee of the Red Cross says the main referral hospital is struggling to treat the injured and there is also a shortage of body bags.

The TPLF said 19 civilians were killed and more than 30 wounded by the Ethiopian army in Mekelle alone, but Mr. Abiy said no civilians were killed during the military operation of several weeks at Tigray.
I last heard of my family through a contact. This was after the Ethiopian military carried out an airstrike on November 16 near the Mekelle university campus.

‘The most difficult time of my life’

My parents and siblings lived around campus, so, the contact told me, they had decided to abandon their home – which has been in the family for generations – to move in with friends to another part of the city. city.
I still couldn’t reach anyone in Mekelle. This is the most difficult time of my life, and all I can do abroad is pray for their safety and that of everyone else.
In recent years, conflicts have erupted in many parts of Ethiopia, which have forced nearly two million people to flee their homes. But there was stability in Tigray.
The situation has now changed, and although Mr. Abiy declared the military operation ended after the capture of Mekelle, reports still indicate that fighting and airstrikes continue in parts of Tigray.
We don’t know when the nightmare will end; when the healing of wounds begins; when families will be reunited and close their doors if they lose loved ones when all schools reopen; when electricity and water are back; when agriculture and business resume, when – in short – life will return to normal.

We have not named the individuals in this report for security reasons.

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