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Nearly 50,000 Ethiopians Have Fled To Sudan To Escape War

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Almost 50,000 Ethiopians have crossed into neighboring Sudan to escape a war. They are telling stories of brutal violence and facing dire conditions at the camps they're living in. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: In the middle of the day, the sun here is brutal. Barely anything grows, and thousands of refugees try to find shade underneath makeshift tents. But two girls still play volleyball with a deflated ball.

(SOUNDBITE OF HITTING BALL)

PERALTA: And when I stop to talk to Measho Fishale, she's desperately trying to make a stew out of grain.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIZZLING)

PERALTA: She's holding her toddler. She touches his cheek. They left Ethiopia about a month ago when the war started.

MEASHO FISHALE: (Through interpreter) I left two children to (unintelligible).

PERALTA: She has seven children, but her two oldest stayed behind. She doesn't know where they are. She's looked in the camp, but she can't call because the phone lines are dead. She had no choice but to run, she says, because when forces moved into her town, they just started killing.

FISHALE: (Through interpreter) I saw forces killing. I saw some people are killing, being beaten by knife.

PERALTA: Killed with machetes. Standing right next to her is 55-year-old Kidan Berhe. Her eyes widen.

KIDAN BERHE: (Through interpreter) And all my gold, all my clothes.

PERALTA: Tell her that I'm very sorry.

She's lost everything, she says. Tears stream down her face. She presses her hands into her cheeks in disbelief.

BERHE: (Speaking Tigrinya).

PERALTA: "Everything is gone," she says.

BERHE: (Speaking Tigrinya).

PERALTA: And she's grateful that she is safe in Sudan. But what future, she asks, do they have now?

The war in Ethiopia is between the country's new government and its old one. They are fighting over power in the country's political system. But here in these camps, this war is about loss. Everyone here, no matter which side they're on, is mourning. Some have lost loved ones. Many have lost homes. And every inch of these refugee camps have become about grasping at some semblance of what they had before the war.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Injera, injera, injera.

PERALTA: The refugees make Ethiopian bread out of sorghum. They share teaspoons of coffee and build huts out of grass.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIGGING)

PERALTA: Fitsum Kidanemariam is just walking laps around the camp. He says art is what really makes him happy, but back home, he had to work in construction.

FITSUM KIDANEMARIAM: Just art - no money.

PERALTA: He says there's no money in art. He takes me to what looks like an abandoned school building. Dozens of people are lying on the floor. On a windowsill, he's lined up sculptures. He's made them out of rocks he's found in the camp.

KIDANEMARIAM: Lion.

PERALTA: Lion.

One of the sculptures has the face of a lion on one side and the face of a woman on the other.

KIDANEMARIAM: (Speaking Tigrinya).

PERALTA: "The woman is forgiving and respectful. The lion, like warring men," he says, "will lash out at the slightest touch." He says he sculpts every day, trying to forget the violence. He says he spent hours sculpting this rock, dreaming of a different life where humans were less like lions.

Eyder Peralta, NPR News in Sudan, along the Ethiopian border. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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