Mother Makes it to Safety in Sudan after Fleeing Hospital in Ethiopia with Premature Twins

Men, women and children have been walking for days and crossing the river to flee the violence in Tigray

Salma Ismail
mother with twins
26 November 2020

A humanitarian crisis is unfolding as thousands of refugees flee ongoing fighting in Tigray every day to seek safety in Kassala and Gedarif states, eastern Sudan. This is an influx unseen over the last two decades in this part of the country. People have been crossing the border at the rate of 4,000-5,000 per day since the 10th of November 2020, rapidly overwhelming the humanitarian response capacity on the ground. As of 24th of November, over 40,000 people have crossed into Sudan. The concentration of arrivals has been happening mainly in Hamdyet Reception Center, and now response is being expanded to other regions.

Inside a makeshift UNICEF tent for mothers and newborn babies were Solot and Sempa, born prematurely at 7-months to a 19-year-old mother, sleeping peacefully as they have just had breast milk for the first time. Their young mother Mebraq gave birth to them at Humara Hospital in Ethiopia on the border with Sudan, when the bombing in Tigray started. She grabbed her premature twins in the middle of the night and fled. Due to the trauma, lack of food and stress, Mebraq was unable to produce breastmilk to feed them for days.

After walking for three longs days, she crossed the river over to Sudan on a small boat and reached the Hamdayet Reception Centre. From there, she was immediately transferred by ambulance to a hospital in Khashm el-Girba, a town in Kassala, north-eastern Sudan and she and her twins were admitted for several days. “Some good women gave me clothes for my baby. They are too big but it’s better than nothing.

Premature Babies

For days, I could not breastfeed, maybe because I’m so tired, I knew I had to flee to save my life and my children’s life, so I walked for three days.

At the time of the bombing, both her parents and husband were with her and took turns carrying the twins and also carrying her. As a new mother she was in excruciating pain but was determined to bring her newborns to safety.

They are among a recent wave of refugees who have arrived in Hamdayet Reception Centre in Kassala where people streaming across the border are received.  Over 5,000 women, children and men fled the ongoing fighting over the past week, bringing the number of Ethiopian refugees who have streamed into Sudan to over 40,000 since the crisis began at the beginning of November.

The earlier a baby is born, the more likely they are to have problems. Babies born after seven months usually need a short stay in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit (NICU.) Babies born earlier than that face much bigger risks and need more specialized care. Accelerating interventions aimed at improving infant and young child feeding (IYCF) at community level is a key priority for UNICEF in the effort to improve survival, growth, and development of children with equity.

Mebraq said when she came back from the hospital to Hamdayet, she frantically looked for her parents but could not find them. Later someone gave her a letter where her parents explained that they left for Um Rakoba and will wait for her there - 70 kilometers further inside Sudan where the refugees are being relocated. She hopes to join them with her babies soon.

“My back hurts so much, I am in constant pain. I need my mother to help me with my babies. I have not slept for days,” She said.

The majority of those fleeing into Sudan have crossed through Hamdayet border point in Kassala where an emergency response has been set up to register and provide assistance to thousands of women, children and men crossing into Sudan.

“I want to join my parents in Um Rakoba,” Said Mebraq.  

At Um Rakoba she will be registered, reunited with her parents, and she and her children will receive much needed care in the hopes  of returning home safely with her family one day.