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Ethiopians Flee To Sudan Amid Conflict


Up to now, we've had almost no eyewitness reporting of an emerging civil war in Ethiopia. The reporting we have next is about as close as anyone can get. NPR's Eyder Peralta is today in eastern Sudan, near Ethiopia's border. Eyder, will you just describe where you are and what you've been able to see?

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey, Steve. Yeah. I'm at a place called Umrakuba camp, and we're not far from the Ethiopian border, as you said but about two hours from the nearest town. So this is a really desolate area. It's incredibly hot. It's arid. And right here in this camp where I am, there's about 10,000 refugees, and they're expecting more buses to arrive today.

And the thing is, there's just - there's very little here. Most of the people escaped here with nothing but their clothes, and they still don't have much. Most people here, they're just camping under the few trees that are here. And it's - they're really just trying to rebuild a sense of normalcy.

INSKEEP: Well, let's just remind people, these are people who've fled a war as there's a kind of breakaway province inside Ethiopia. And the government has been cracking down.

As I listen closely to you, Eyder, I think I hear maybe kids playing in the background. Can you describe the conditions in that desolate spot?

PERALTA: Yeah. So I'm actually standing right outside a food distribution spot, so there's a line of women who are just sitting, waiting for food. And so there is aid here, but there's just - there's little of it. There are few materials for people to build their shelters. I spoke to a pregnant woman who had not eaten in three days. And I also spent some time with Lentikele Bilai (ph), who is 56, and she's been here long enough that her family has built a small hut. But she told me that in every other instance in her life, she could rely on her family, on her kids, on her sons to help her. But now she can't. Let's listen to a bit of what she told me.

LENTIKELE BILAI: (Through interpreter) At this time, no one can help us. Indeed, we are suffering lack of food, lack of medicine, lack of everything.

PERALTA: And what she told me is that she just really feels - she feels alone right now.

INSKEEP: Eyder, when you speak with these refugees, what do they tell you about the war across the border?

PERALTA: It's heartbreaking. Pretty much everyone describes heavy fighting and trying to run from shelling, from explosions. I heard from a father who doesn't know where his kids are because everyone just ran to save themselves. I spoke to Tesfiye Tedesi (ph), who is 25, and he says he saw militants just rampage through his town. He says he saw his friend be killed. He was running, he says, and the militants asked why they were running. And they shot him and others. And he says that if people weren't killed by bullets, that the militants would finish them off with machetes. And you can see the horror of this on some of their faces.

I spoke to a mom who was holding her little girl, and she was about 3 years old. They were sitting in the shade. They were trying to get away from the really hot sun. And her daughter was just - she was clinging to her, and she looked shellshocked. And her mom says, it's just - it's hard to explain to her what's happening right now.

INSKEEP: I think I hear you saying people are describing these militant groups, not just regular army forces, and that they seem to be targeting civilians. Is that correct?

PERALTA: That's right, Steve.

INSKEEP: Eyder, thanks very much for the update, really appreciate it.

PERALTA: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR East Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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