Um Rakuba refugee camp, Sudan – As international organisations prepare to distribute aid to war-weary civilians in the Tigray state of Ethiopia as soon as possible, Tigray refugees who escaped to neighbouring Sudan wonder if they will ever see their homeland again.
A deal reached between the United Nations and the Ethiopian government last week allowed humanitarian workers to enter the embattled region, but it remains too volatile for aid to reach.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared victory over the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) after federal troops captured the regional capital Mekelle just over a week ago, saying not a single civilian had been killed in the offensive.
Tens of thousands of displaced Ethiopian refugees are running out of food and water due to the month-long conflict that has forced almost 50,000 to flee.
Those who fled the violence believe they are the lucky ones.
A vast majority of the refugees living in Sudan’s Um Rakuba camp, which means “mother of all shelters”, are male. They say they saw other men being killed, and fled for their lives.
Despite the bare-bones conditions of the camp, with families sleeping out in the open, Tigrayans say they feel safe there.
Cash and other assistance are available to all the refugees and rudimentary education facilities have been set up.
Refugee teachers start lessons with songs under wooden shelters – the sound of children singing is a welcome distraction for those missing family members back home.
If there is one consensus among the refugees, it is this: They will not return home until it is safe.
“I cannot go back to Tigray. It is too dangerous for me,” said Younas, a student.
He longs to hear whether his sister and mother are safe but because of the deliberate communication blackout, he cannot reach them. “I will just have to wait,” he said.
Waiting has become a forced pastime for many Tigrayans living in Um Rakuba as the conflict, which could potentially uproot them forever, continues.