Humanitarian fear as thousands of Sudanese flee to Chad on foot

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By Webdesk

Tens of thousands of people fleeing violence in Sudan are pouring into Chad, as aid agencies warn that greater flows of refugees will arrive.

Since fierce fighting broke out in Sudan on April 15, an estimated 20,000 people have entered Chad and at least 100,000 will arrive, the United Nations said on Tuesday, citing concerns about the stability of a fragile region.

The conflict has pitted army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan against Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, the head of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and al-Burhan’s deputy on the army’s Sovereignty Council that has led the country since October 2021. coup. More than 400 people have died so far.

While the most intense fighting took place in the capital, Khartoum, fighting has also spread to Sudan’s western Darfur region, bringing back memories of the 16-year conflict that left 300,000 people dead. At the time, rebels fought against the government of President Omar al-Bashir and the Popular Defense Forces – dubbed “Janjaweed” by the rebels – which later evolved into the RSF.

Chad is on Darfur’s western border and has reported the highest number of refugees from the conflict in Sudan compared to other neighboring countries, according to the UN.

“They arrive exhausted and in a panic having left behind all their material and financial belongings,” said Idriss Mahmat Ali Abdallah Nassouri, head of Chad’s National Commission for Reception, Reintegration and Returnees (CNARR).

Most of the refugees have come from the cities of Nyala and El Geneina, the capital of western Darfur, where fighting has been more intense, Nassouri said, adding that most now reside in Chad’s eastern Ouaddai and Sila provinces.

“The number of arrivals is increasing by the thousands and is worrying,” Nassouri said, noting that resources have been squeezed to help the 600,000 refugees spread across 13 camps in the east of the country, who had been devastated before Sudan’s latest crisis. lived in Chad. erupted.

People carry kerkade (hibiscus) juice and cold water to hand them out to people amid evacuations from Khartoum to Port Sudan on April 23, 2023 in this photo obtained from social media.  Twitter@dalliasd/via REUTERS THIS IMAGE IS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.  MANDATORY CREDIT.
People carry kerkade (hibiscus) juice and cold water to hand out to people amid evacuations from Khartoum [Twitter@dalliasd/via Reuters]

The CNRR, along with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), began pre-registering incoming citizens in Chad on Monday, identifying urgent needs and assessing whether new camps were needed, or whether families could be moved to pre-existing shelters.

Meanwhile, UNHCR has said it has rushed basic items, from sleeping mats to water, to villages close to the border.

Aid workers working at the border said they mainly received women and children who had been walking for more than two days and had little more than their clothes and some food with them.

“The need is huge,” says Malpha Koiti, Chadian lead mission of Premiere Urgence – a French NGO active in Chad. “It’s mostly women and children who come with nothing, they left everything behind,” he said as his team deployed a mobile hospital in Adre, a town in Ouaddai.

“We need water, because access to it was difficult – even before the conflict; we need shelters, as people sleep under trees, and infrastructures for drinking water and latrines to prevent diseases, such as cholera,” Koiti added.

The timing is not favorable either, as the rainy season starts in June, further hampering humanitarian aid and putting locals and refugees in competition for already scarce resources.

“If the conflict in Sudan continues, we will also see an increase in large-scale banditry and inter-ethnic conflict,” Koiti added.

Aid organizations were also concerned about their ability to provide support to the new wave of refugees: “The services are already overstretched to support those who are already there and funding gaps are critical to our ability to help new refugees,” said Eujin Byun. , a spokeswoman. for the UN Refugee Agency. Since the beginning of the year, only 15 percent of the budget needed to help displaced people in Chad has been funded.

People gather as they flee between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum, Sudan, April 24, 2023. REUTERS/El-Tayeb Siddig
People gather as they flee between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum, Sudan [El-Tayeb Siddig/Reuters]

But while Chad has seen its main border crossing so far due to its proximity to Darfur, aid workers have warned civilians even further away will be affected.

“We have to be prepared in South Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt… People will move; it will take longer, but they will start to arrive,” said James Curtis, executive director for East Africa at the Danish Refugee Council. “This will only get bigger and bigger as the crisis intensifies,” Curtis added.

Sudan is home to 800,000 South Sudanese refugees, a quarter of whom live in Khartoum, now ravaged by gunfire and airstrikes.

South Sudan used to be part of Sudan, but became independent when a decades-long civil war ended in 2011.

So far, 4,000 South Sudanese have entered their homeland, mostly through the Renk border crossing in Upper Nile state, but there has been “a daily increase” in arrivals, read a UN memo. Arrivals have mostly used transport to reach the border, but a large number of South Sudanese are expected to reach the border crossing on foot.

The consequences of a significant number of people being forced to return to South Sudan, a country ravaged by an ongoing ethnic conflict that has left nearly three-quarters of the population in need of humanitarian assistance, has already been a cause for concern for aid agencies.

“The humanitarian impact of this crisis will be harsh,” said a UN report released Tuesday.

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