SEHAM ELORABY and BAZ RATNER
ETHIOPIAN farmer Berhan Halie came to Sudan 35 years ago to escape hunger.
Now 65 and walking with a stick, he is back again, this time to escape the bullets and bombs of the conflict in Tigray, fleeing from his village as neighbours lay dead on the ground.
Berhan and his family spent days walking to the border crossing with Sudan, among more than 45,000 who have fled from fighting between the Ethiopian government and rebellious Tigray forces.
After crossing two weeks ago, he was brought by bus to the Um Rakuba camp in Sudan’s Qadarif state — the same site he came to when fleeing the famine that had ravaged northern Ethiopia in 1985.
“The first time I came was because of famine but now it’s because of war, that’s why I feel really sad and I feel so much pain,” said Berhan, sitting in the shade against some foam matting as he rested an old leg injury.
He recounted how dead bodies were strewn behind him as he fled amid heavy fire. He had no chance to identify them, but is sure they were from his village, Rayan.
“I could not manage to look back because I was thinking about my family and how to escape and how to get out of the country,” he said.
“I wasn’t the only one walking. So many people were walking alongside me, and mothers carrying their children on their backs, and others the same age as me.”
Like other mainly Tigrayan refugees who have fled to Sudan, Berhan blamed the violence on government forces and allied militia. Reuters was unable to verify his claims.
The government denies it has killed civilians in the conflict. Both sides have accused the other of ethnic-based killings, while denying responsibility for carrying them out.
Thousands of people are believed to have been killed since fighting broke out in Tigray, where Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has been trying to quell a rebellion by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
Assertions from all sides are difficult to verify since phone and internet links to Tigray have been down and access tightly controlled since the conflict began on Nov. 4.
“This is inhumane, slaughtering people, stealing all their belongings, I feel the world has betrayed Tigray because people are doing nothing while people are being killed,” said Berhan.
Conditions at Um Rakuba are harsh. New arrivals have been sheltering under trees and tents made from sticks and plastic sheeting. Those not yet registered as refugees get two rations of sorghum porridge a day, which some complain is making them sick.
Some teenagers pass the time playing volleyball next to a row of white tents, while others queue for food or try to sleep.
The war in Tigray region has heightened frictions between Ethiopia’s myriad ethnic groups.
Ethiopian authorities said on Saturday that the military operation in Tigray was over, they controlled the regional capital Mekelle, and a hunt for the rebel leaders was under way.
For Berhan, speaking on Sunday, the Ethiopian government had already won.
“They made a plan on how to destroy Tigray and the plan is about to happen. The attack is about to be accomplished,” he said. – Thomson Reuters Foundation.