Refugee doctor chronicles Tigray’s pain as he treats it

He is a surgeon and a father. Every morning, he wakes up under a plastic tarp and is reminded he is now a refugee, too.

Tewodros Tefera is one of more than 60,000 people who have fled the conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, crossing the border into a remote corner of Sudan. Horrified by what he saw when the fighting between Ethiopian and Tigray forces began six months ago, and by the tales of new arrivals, the 43-year-old chronicles the pain even as he treats it.

“It’s getting worse,” Tewodros, who fills a growing number of notebooks as he compiles a “dossier” on the conflict, says of life back home.

His wife and small children remain there, and he does not know when he will see them again. He works from dawn to well beyond dusk at a clinic run by the Sudanese Red Crescent Society in the border community of Hamdayet, having lost 12 kilograms (26 pounds) in the past five months.

With no running water or electricity, Tewodros and a handful of colleagues see well more than 100 patients a day. Tewodros has delivered babies and treated gunshot wounds, despite a shortage of anesthesia.

“He feels it as if he has the same pain,” one patient, Rahwa Haylay, says, her jaw still bandaged from an operation.

Ethiopia says it is “deeply dismayed” by the deaths of civilians, blames the now-fugitive Tigray leaders and claims normality is returning. But Tewodros’ patients tell him that killings, gang rapes and mass expulsions of ethnic Tigrayans continue.

On a recent day, Tewodros examined the fresh welts on the back of a young man who had just walked in from Tigray. The man said he and his friends had been forced to lie in the hot sand and be beaten by soldiers from nearby Eritrea collaborating with Ethiopian forces. He heard one soldier call a superior and ask, “Should we kill them or let them go?”

Between patients, Tewodros is pulled aside by fellow refugees who seek his help with community matters, hushed confidences, legal questions. Meanwhile, he is picking up Arabic phrases to improve his treatment of local Sudanese. His exhaustion is kept at bay with cigarettes and coffee.

“This man, I think, is a special man,” said Yagoub Mohamed, the director of the local Sudanese reception centre for refugees. He and Tewodros meet daily to discuss their work but stray into the personal.

“When he talks about his wife and children, he’s crying,” Mohamed said.

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