Civilians in Sudan, including scores of internally displaced people and refugees, are scrambling for safety and suffering the disastrous consequences of the violence there, as many aid operations have been forced to pause, UN humanitarians said on Friday.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said that tens of thousands of refugees from South Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea living in the country have fled the fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in the Khartoum area.
The newly displaced have found shelter in existing refugee camps further east and south, creating new humanitarian challenges.
UNHCR is also particularly concerned about the situation in the Darfur region, where fears are deepening of a revival of ethnic tensions.
The agency’s representative in Sudan, Axel Bisschop, told reporters in Geneva that Darfur might present the “biggest challenge” from a humanitarian point of view.
“We’re concerned that the intercommunal violence is going to increase and that we might have some situations which will repeat in relation to what we had a couple of years ago,” in a region which has already experienced severe conflict and displacement, he said.
UNHCR stressed that Darfur presents “a myriad of pressing protection issues”, highlighting that a number of sites hosting internally displaced people have been burned to the ground, while civilian houses and humanitarian premises have been hit by bullets.
Concerns over the region are shared by the UN rights office (OHCHR), which warned on Friday of a “serious risk” of violence escalating in West Darfur as the hostilities between the RSF and SAF have triggered intercommunal violence.
OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said that in El Geneina, West Darfur, “deadly ethnic clashes” have been reported and an estimated 96 people have been killed since April 24.
The UN Secretary-General expressed his gratitude to France and other nations who have helped with the relocation and evacuation of UN staff from Khartoum and elsewhere this week.
In a statement issued by his spokesperson, Ant
ónio Guterres highlighted help from France in safely transporting more than 400 UN personnel and dependents out of Sudan.
“The French Navy transported more than 350 of our colleagues and their families from Port Sudan to Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia, on Tuesday night.”
On Thursday, more than 70 UN and affiliated personnel, as well as others, were flown on a French Air Force plane from El Fasher, Sudan, to the capital of Chad.
“We also thank the authorities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Chad, Kenya and Uganda for facilitating the arrival of our colleagues and their families.
The Secretary-General is also very thankful to the many other Member States, including the United States, Jordan, Sweden, Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada, who have assisted in ensuring the safe transport of UN personnel.”
The overall death toll in the conflict has risen to at least 512, according to the latest figures from the Sudanese Ministry of Health quoted by OHCHR on Friday, with the understanding that this is almost certainly a very conservative estimate.
While the fragile ceasefire has led to a decrease in fighting in some areas, allowing some to flee their homes in search of safety, human rights abuses against people on the move - such as extortion — have been rife, Shamdasani said.
Bisschop said that Sudan hosts over a million refugees, notably from South Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea.
UNHCR has received reports of around 33,000 refugees having fled from Khartoum to refugee camps in White Nile State, 2,000 to the camps in Gedaref and 5,000 to Kassala since the start of the crisis two weeks ago.
Thousands of people — Sudanese citizens, including many internally displaced people, and refugees living in Sudan — have also fled the country.
UNHCR spokesperson Matthew Saltmarsh said that in Chad, UNHCR together with the government has registered around 5,000 arrivals so far, and that at least 20,000 have crossed.
Some 10,000 people have crossed to South Sudan, while in Egypt, Central African Republic and Ethiopia, there have been an unknown number of arrivals, given the speed at which the situation is unfolding and the scale of the country.
UNHCR said the security situation has forced it to “temporarily pause” most of its aid operations in Khartoum, the Darfurs and North Kordofan, where it has become “too dangerous to operate”.
“The suspension of some humanitarian programs is likely to exacerbate protection risks faced by those who rely on humanitarian assistance to survive,” UNHCR warned.
Bisschop said that UNHCR was working closely with the UN World Food Program (WFP), to see how the food that is already positioned in the country can be provided.
Brenda Kariuki, WFP’s Regional Communications Officer for East Africa, said that amid the crisis, millions more across the region could be plunged into hunger. In Sudan, security threats to humanitarian operations, as well as the looting of WFP supplies from warehouses and the theft of vehicles used to transport aid, were depriving the most vulnerable of desperately needed assistance, the UN agency said.
Around one-third of the country’s population, or some 15.8 million people, were already in need of aid before the fighting started. The UN’s 2023 Sudan Humanitarian Response Plan, for a total of $1.7 billion, remains only 13.5 per cent funded.
Briefing correspondents in New York, Deputy UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric, said that humanitarians were reporting some 3,000 people have crossed the Sudanese border into northern Central African Republic, CAR, setting up makeshift settlements.
“Local authorities are exploring the possibility of relocating them in Birao, far from the border region”, and more arrivals are expected.
With Sudan a major supplier of essential goods to CAR, especially during the rainy season, which runs from now through October, prices are ticking up and some items such as sugar and millet have doubled in price in CAR since the fighting began.
Some 120,000 people were already in need of humanitarian assistance in the northern part of the country, highlighting the damaging impact of the fighting spilling across Sudan’s borders.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported on Thursday that in Khartoum, more than 60 percent of health facilities are closed and only 16 per cent are operating as normal.
WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier told media in Geneva on Friday that WHO has verified 25 attacks on healthcare since the start of the fighting, which killed eight people and injured 18.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) previously warned that the ongoing violence has disrupted “critical, life-saving care” for some 50,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
The first group of evacuees from Sudan to be assisted by the UN migration agency IOM, arrived at N’Djamena’s Hassan Djamous International Airport in Chad late on Thursday, in two special flights chartered by the Chadian authorities.
The group included 116 males and 110 females, 39 of whom were children.
IOM helped the Chadian authorities with the registration of the new arrivals, the identification and referral of vulnerable cases, and post-arrival assistance including cash to support onwards transportation to reunite evacuees with their families.
“We are working around the clock to continue supporting the Government of Chad in this delicate and complex situation, despite massive gaps in much needed funding,” said Anne Kathrin Schaefer, IOM Chief of Mission in Chad.
These efforts are closely coordinated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chadians Abroad and International Cooperation which heads a Government Crisis Cell, established to coordinate the evacuation operations from Sudan.
“Our priority is to ensure that all those who have arrived receive adequate support to help them reunite with their families, but also medical assistance, including mental health and psychosocial support,” she added.