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World Hotline helps Ethiopians separated by conflict stay in touch

16:50  28 november  2020
16:50  28 november  2020 Source:   msn.com

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Tadilo now stays side-by-side with Hussen, the Amhara special forces informally integrated into the unit, sleeping on mattresses outside the barracks and taking orders from army officers. © Jean-Michel CORNU Maps of Ethiopia and the region of Tigray. Despite being from the neighbouring region

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A shack covered by plastic in Sudan's Hamdayit refugee centre has become a source of smiles, sighs and tears for Ethiopian refugees, thanks to a hotline set up to trace relatives.

a group of people looking at a laptop: An Ethiopian refugee sends her mother a message through the International Committee of the Red Cross, after fleeing the northern Tigray region into neighbouring Sudan © ASHRAF SHAZLY An Ethiopian refugee sends her mother a message through the International Committee of the Red Cross, after fleeing the northern Tigray region into neighbouring Sudan a couple of people that are standing in the dirt: Ethiopian refugees who have fled the Tigray conflict in a transit centre in the Sudanese border town of Hamdayit -- many were separated from loved ones in their scramble to leave their homes © ASHRAF SHAZLY Ethiopian refugees who have fled the Tigray conflict in a transit centre in the Sudanese border town of Hamdayit -- many were separated from loved ones in their scramble to leave their homes

Like many who fled the conflict in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region, Nassant Sio came to the ramshackle shanty town to try and contact loved ones left behind or separated in the scramble to flee.

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But while conflict rages at home, many of the refugees in Sudan are already eking out a living in their new surrounds. "I'm not making a fortune," said Burhano, who, like many, escaped with only what he could carry for the hard trek across the baking hot bush.

a group of people sitting in a bag: The hotline has brought joy and relief for some, but others have been unable to restore contact with their relatives, due to Ethiopia's government cutting communications with the war-torn Tigray region © ASHRAF SHAZLY The hotline has brought joy and relief for some, but others have been unable to restore contact with their relatives, due to Ethiopia's government cutting communications with the war-torn Tigray region

"I spoke to her and she is well," Sio said of her mother, as tears rolled down her face.

"And I reassured her about our fate," added the 33-year-old woman who fled the border town of Humera with her husband.

A sign outside the shack reads in English "restoring family links".

The phone and message service has been set up by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent.

More than 43,000 refugees have crossed into Sudan since fighting broke out in Tigray on November 4, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said as he visited Sudanese camps this week.

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The Hamdayit transit centre is crammed with some 30,000 refugees, most of whom fled with a few belongings and the clothes on their backs.

And in the chaos of trekking for hours in the blazing sun or crossing a river on makeshift boats, many families were separated.

The hotline and message service has been in strong demand.

Ten Ethiopian refugees surrounded an ICRC delegate seeking news of a family member one recent day.

The delegate sat on the ground, a translator at his side, typing a message on a computer that would be sent to headquarters in Geneva.

From there the message requesting information about someone left behind in Tigray or lost on the way to Sudan is then relayed to another ICRC delegation closer to where those people may be.

"Yesterday I sent out 90 messages," the ICRC employee said, declining to be identified.

- 'No news of her' -

Burhani Gebermakel, a 50-year-old farmer, is distraught.

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He fled Humera alone -- while his wife, his daughter, his son and his daughter-in-law were in Maygaba in the western part of Tigray.

Gebermakel has not heard from them since.

"I don't want to send a message. I want to speak to them on the phone. I want to hear their voices. That will reassure me and I will know they are still alive," he said.

But telecommunications with Tigray are cut.

Inside the shack, two cell phones are placed on a small table.

Red Crescent workers tirelessly tap in numbers for Ethiopians who have relatives outside Tigray.

One woman asked to place a call to Addis Ababa, speaking quickly to a relative to say she is safe in Sudan and asking that the rest of the family be informed.

"This way they will know that I am alive, here in Hamdayit," she said.

The calls are free but limited to three minutes only, to give everyone a chance to get in touch with a loved one.

But not everyone is lucky enough to be able to make calls.

That's the case for Tasagi Gazdeher, who has had no news of her mother for 18 days.

"I came from Humera and my mother lives in Burhat. It is not far but it is impossible to communicate because both towns are in Tigray," Gazdeher said.

The 31-year-old said he sent her mother a message but has not received any replies yet.

"I have had no news of her. I wrote to her to say I was safe and sound, and I also gave her my Sudanese (cell phone) number.

"I hope she will receive the message. I need to feel reassured and she does too," she added.

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Ethiopian refugees in Sudan caught between camps and conflict .
Ethiopians who fled the Tigray region into Sudan are torn between a grim future in refugee camps and returning to an almost month-old conflict in their homeland. Others complained of marginalisation of the Tigray region and said the conflict had left them no choice but to start their lives elsewhere. "It is very tough here, but I will never go back to Tigray. We have no option to return," Tigrayan refugee Dagaf Abraha said from the Um Raquba refugee camp, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the border."Abiy Ahmed doesn't want the Tigray tribe in Ethiopia," Abraha said.

usr: 1
This is interesting!