In Sudan Border Town, Desperate Ethiopians Find ‘Second Mother Country’
HAMDAYET, Sudan – Refugees were hungry and tired, their boots were dusted and spoiled by trudging from the bush and forest of northwestern Ethiopia for four days, hiding from soldiers as they escaped Conflict in the Tigray region of the country.
In the end, they safely made it to the small Sudanese border town of Hamdeset. But they had nothing to sleep and to eat. So they sat in a sandy street close to the city center, asking passersby for food and water.
It was here that Mohammad Ali Ibrahim, who works in a local restaurant, found him.
He took them to his family’s compound near the street, and invited them to live in an empty mud hut on the property. He told them that they could stay as long as they wanted.
“They are like our brothers,” said Mr. Ibrahim, 64, of a group of four women and one man – members of two families who were neighbors in Ethiopia. “We have not given them a time limit and we cannot do it because these people are coming to us for shelter.”
Since Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abi Ahmad ordered a military strike against the leaders of the rest of the Tigre region in early November, more than 61,000 Ethiopians have crossed into Sudan, according to the UN Refugee Agency. More than 43,000 of those refugees have crossed the Tekez River in Hamedet, a remote and tranquil town in the eastern Kasala state of Sudan.
Mr Lull, 48, had worked as a guard in a bank in Hamera, a town in Tigray and had fled with his wife and daughter, along with two neighbors, after launching shelling.
“The Sudanese welcomed us very well,” he said, near his makeshift house, with its rammed conical roof. The aroma of coffee and incense sticks echoed inside. “Sudan is like our second motherland. They have done everything they can. “
After crossing Sudan, Mr. Lull said, the terror of the Odyssey subsided, but he still suffered from the anxiety of the four siblings he had left behind and what would have happened at his family’s home.
While the United Nations has moved most of the refugees to camps deep in Sudan, some Ethiopians have lied in Hamedayet in hopes of returning home soon. But they have also stayed, they say, because Sudanese families like Mr. Ibrahim have opened their homes – and hearts – to share them, food, fire, and even money.
And yet Sudanese and Ethiopian refugees are not much constrained by geographical context, there are a lot of differences that may divide them.
The Hamdets have Sudanese Muslims, Arabic-speaking traders and livestock herds while Ethiopia’s Tigray or Amharic-speaking farmers are mostly Practicing Christianity, many of them sport cross tattoos on their foreheads.
Mr. Ibrahim, who sat near Mr. Lull that afternoon, said that the residents of the city felt a collective responsibility to help the refugees.
“The people of the region did their best, whether it was from providing food, drinks and clothes,” Mr. Ibrahim said. “We are doing this for the sake of Allah.”
The influx of refugees has replaced Hemdet with power lines or walking from a sleeping barrier Threw water one by one with humanitarian activists, journalists and security officials.
Every morning, when young Sudanese boys and girls descend on the river to collect water in leather bags and donkeys climbed by jerekons, they are joined by Ethiopian refugees washing in the river.
Many small shops serving coffee and sweet tea are also sprinkled with young refugees, mostly men, gathering to discuss the situation back home and listening to Ethiopian music and dancing traditional shoulder to shoulder.
In the city’s only market, some Ethiopians have been scouring bananas and grapes under the scorching sun, while others are lurking around the restaurant.
Sudan has been Suffering from an economic crisis besides bread and fuel shortage. “Hearty, life is really reaffirming,” said Will Carter, Sudan’s director for the Norwegian Refugee Council, who has visited Hamdet, to open his home to the people there for the refugee’s escape.
“The first line of support for refugees are not authorities or aid agencies, but are actually local – usually poor – communities, everyday citizens,” he said.
Hasina Mohammed Omar was keeping three refugees at her home, while her next-door neighbor took part in five. Ms. Omar, 40, said that her father used to go to Ethiopia to do business, and at one point of time, she had a sister who lived there. As Ethiopians arrived, she said she felt a duty to assist but she could.
“We should sympathize with each other,” she said. “They knocked on our door and said, ‘Do you have a place?” And what do you do? You give them home. “
Thomas Weldoo, a 23-year-old university student who visited the family in Hamra when the war started, is living with Ms. Omar.
He had previously moved to Sudan with his mother, a businessman who traded buckwheat, buckwheat for clothes and shoes. During his earlier experiences, he said, he had found the Sudanese “the most generous people in the world”.
“We knew we would be welcomed here,” he said.
But some Ethiopians say that some people in the city have indicated that it might be better if they move to refugee camps so that they do not stress limited resources.
“There is only so much that families can support you and give you food, water or space,” Mr. Thomas said. “And they are right. The Sudanese economy by itself is not stable. They have their own problems. “
In recent months, Ethiopia and Sudan have clashed over the al-Fashaga agricultural sector, which is within the eastern Gedarf state of Sudan, but historically populated by Ethiopian farmers.
Sudanese officials said in January that Ethiopian war planes had penetrated their country’s airspace and accused Ethiopian civilians of killing civilians. Authorities in Ethiopia have accused the Armed Forces of Sudan of capturing and looting fields in al-Fashga, even after both countries said they had agreed to resolve the border dispute through negotiations.
Tensions have also increased from the Hamdet border crossing in the past, with refugees claiming that Ethiopian forces prevented them from crossing into Sudan.
But in Hamdet, Sudanese who are welcoming Tigray’s refugees said they would continue to do so.
“We are neighbors,” said 51-year-old Aaron Adam Ibrahim, whose family at one point had about 20 people on his premises. “we are brothers.”
Comparing the two Sudanese and Ethiopian cities as one, he said, “Hamedet is like Hamera and Hamera is like Hamedet.”
Despite the warm reception in Sudan, many Ethiopian refugees are longing for peace so that they can go home. But it does not look promising.
Even though the leader of Ethiopia, Mr. Abi, has declared victory in the battle, Conflict continues in the area. Health facilities have been damaged and food is scarce, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said earlier this month “Seriously worried. “
University student Mr Thomas said he wanted to use his time in Sudan to hone his Arabic skills, find a job with a non-governmental organization and hope to move to Khartoum, the Sudan’s capital.
But he said that he thinks of missing out on his university graduation and he misses recording rap videos, among his friends.
“I don’t know how long I’ll be there,” he said. “But at least here we are safe.”