The refugees are being taken to the Adimazin transit centre, about 20 kilometres from the border, where they will stay for a maximum period of two months before being transferred to the newly opened Tongo Refugee Camp, much deeper inside Ethiopia. By Wednesday evening, 425 had been moved.
The 600 refugees at the border town of Geissan fled into Ethiopia in September to escape conflict between the Sudanese armed forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-(North). They had resisted calls to move further inland until the fighting in Sudan’s Blue Nile state, including aerial and ground attacks, came closer to the border. Some 27,000 people have sought shelter in Ethiopia.
“I wish to get my family away from this area,” said Mohamed, who had been living in the Monday Market district of Geissan since fleeing to Ethiopia. He spoke to UNHCR a few days before boarding a bus for the Adimazin transit centre, which is expected to eventually accommodate 4,500 people.
The 42-year-old refugee, his two wives and eight children had been living in a makeshift shelter that provided scant protection against the elements. Exposure to rainstorms at the tail end of Ethiopia’s rainy season had increased his family’s risk of contracting malaria and respiratory tract infections.
He and other refugees have long been reluctant to move to safer areas because they wish to be closer to their homes when the fighting stops. UNHCR staff and aid workers from the government’s Administration of Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) have repeatedly urged them to reconsider on safety grounds.
“I remember one of the refugee leaders angrily shaking a stick at me,” recalled Rose Muchina, leader of the UNHCR emergency team in Sudan. “Even though I did not understand what he was saying, it was clear he was not going to give the refugee community permission to relocate to Adimazin.”
But the community leader was won over and gave his backing to a move to Adimazin after visiting the transit centre with other community elders. Construction of the facility began as these negotiations were under way.
Work is continuing to increase capacity, but the transit centre currently has a registration hall, 200 family tents, 36 cubicle latrines, a kitchen and dining area, a mobile health clinic and hygiene facilities. Storage water bladders with a total capacity for 40,000 litres are being installed.
Aside from security, Musa was also swayed to move because of the opportunity his children would have for an education. As a child, his own education was interrupted frequently because of war. He wishes better for his children.
After arriving in Adimazin, Musa stood by his tent and looked out across the transit centre with a big smile on his face. “If I had known that such a place existed, I would have pleaded with the community elder myself,” he said. “We have a saying in my country – receiving things late is better than never receiving them at all,” he added.