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With chaos enveloping Ethiopia amidst a weeks-long conflict, thousands of refugees have made their way to Umm Rakouba refugee camp in neighboring Sudan in a bid to escape the bloodshed.
Hundreds boarded rickety, run down buses for the trip, hanging out of the windows with little room to spare during the journey Friday.
At the camp, which is now home to 15,000 refugees, women huddled around fires on the ground, cooking food for their families in a bare bones set up of scattered concrete shelters.
The bus riders were among up to 950,000 people who may be displaced by the month-long war. Nearly 50,000 have already fled into neighboring Sudan.
LIke other camps, Umm Rakouba is nearly overwhelmed by the mass exodus of people seeking food and medical aid after international aid to the region was cut off for more than a month.
The Ethiopian government restricted access to the region after the shadowy, ethnically-charged war began between federal troops and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, a political party that ruled the province. No journalists or outside observers have been able to get into the region since the fighting began Nov. 4, leaving rumor and propaganda from both sides as the only source of information.
The government on Saturday allowed the first convoy of humanitarian aid — seven white trucks from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Ethiopian Red Cross that arrived in the regional capital Mekelle.
“Doctors and nurses have been … weeks without new supplies, running water, and electricity,” said Patrick Youssef, the ICRC’s regional director for Africa. “This medical shipment will inject new stocks, help patients,” and reduce those impossible life-or-death triage decisions.”
The government says Tigray is returning to normal, but the specter of a Nov. 9 massacre that saw hundreds killed in the border town of Mai-Kadra hangs over those who fled, and rumors of ongoing slaughter keep them from returning.
Hundreds were hacked with machetes and knives or strangled with ropes during the killing in Mai-Kadra. After interviewing refugees, Amnesty International said it’s possible troops from both sides participated. The organization said it confirmed the massacre in the city by using geolocation to verify video and photographs of the bodies.
Mai-Kadra may just be the beginning of atrocities in Tigray, experts fear. Amnesty researcher Fisseha Tekle said “other credible allegations are emerging” of similar massacres in the nearby towns of Humera and Dansha and Mekele.