It's mid-morning, and the Um Rakuba refugee camp on the southern border of Sudan is hot. There are few trees to take shade from the 40°c heat. The dusty main road is bordered on both sides by rows upon rows of huts and tents, temporary accommodation established by The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for the tens of thousands of refugees who have fled over the border from neighbouring Ethiopia since fighting broke out between government forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in November 2020. The severe humanitarian crisis has left more than 5 million people facing starvation.
This week, peace talks mediated by the African Union are taking place in South Africa in an aim to break the bitter impasse between the Tigray region and the Ethiopian federal governments and bring succour to the desperate people caught in the middle.
Many arrivals tell of being victims of armed groups, facing perilous situations, including looting of their houses, forceful recruitment of men and boys and sexual violence against women and girls. Refugees are arriving with little more than the clothes on their backs, fatigued and in weak conditions after sometimes days of travel.
The main road of the camp is peppered with the temporary offices of well-known charities, some providing food aid, others medical care. But there is only one clinic that has bright pink walls and welcomes women, girls, and men inside for free sexual and reproductive healthcare. The Sudan Family Planning Association (SFPA) quickly established a presence here once refugees started to arrive as they understood sexual and reproductive health is not only vital for women’s health and safety but very often overlooked by the humanitarian community.