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Ethiopian Refugees Worry About COVID-19 Outbreak in Sudanese Camps


FILE - Ethiopian refugees line up for supplies at the Um Rakouba refugee camp, which houses refugees fleeing the fighting in the Tigray region, on the Sudan-Ethiopia border in Sudan, Nov. 29, 2020.

Thousands of Ethiopians who fled fighting in Tigray for camps in Sudan fear a new threat — a COVID-19 outbreak. While there are no confirmed cases, concern is running high.

The more than 40,000 Ethiopians who left Tigray for eastern Sudan over the past month have been placed in three camps in the cities of Qadarif and Kassala.

Tesfai Alley, 32, and his pregnant wife fled the fighting, but are now worried about the spread of COVID-19 in the camp due to the low living standards, crowded rooms and a shortage of water.

Social distancing is difficult in the camp, where at least six refugees stay in each small tent or room, and people gather in large groups to get food, water or blankets.

FILE - An Ethiopian refugee child holds an umbrella while sitting in line for water, at the Um Rakouba refugee camp on the Sudan-Ethiopia border in Sudan, Nov. 29, 2020.
FILE - An Ethiopian refugee child holds an umbrella while sitting in line for water, at the Um Rakouba refugee camp on the Sudan-Ethiopia border in Sudan, Nov. 29, 2020.

To help reduce the risk, health workers are teaching refugees methods to prevent the spread of the virus, and isolation centers are being built.

Isaac Yousif, a doctor at Um Rakouba refugee camp, said the densely populated camps pose a risk, should a coronavirus outbreak occur. In addition, he said, there is a possibility some suspected cases fled isolation centers in the war zone and brought the virus to the camps.

A second wave of COVID-19 is sweeping across Sudan, which reports at least 17,000 registered cases and a high mortality rate.

The government has shut down universities and schools, and is considering whether to impose more restrictions.

The U.N. refugee agency is calling for more international aid to deal with the crisis.

Refugees are trying to adjust by constructing small markets inside the camps and close to hosting villages.

Meanwhile, the Sudanese government is setting up a new refugee camp 250 kilometers from Khartoum to help ease overcrowding in the existing camps.

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