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An unimaginable humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Sudan

Briefing notes

An unimaginable humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Sudan

7 November 2023
A large number of new arrivals from Sudan wait in a field in South Sudan

New arrivals fleeing the conflict in Sudan gather at the Joda border crossing in South Sudan in November 2023, awaiting onward transportation to the transit site in Renk.

GENEVA – The war that erupted without warning turned previously peaceful Sudanese homes into cemeteries. Now, fighting is growing in scope and brutality, affecting the people of Sudan, and the world is scandalously silent, though violations of international humanitarian law persist with impunity. It is shameful that the atrocities committed 20 years ago in Darfur can be happening again today with such little attention. As a result, almost six million people have been forced from their homes; more than a million have fled to neighbouring and often fragile countries – and some of them have already moved on.

Away from the eyes of the world and the news headlines, the conflict in Sudan continues to rage. Across the country, an unimaginable humanitarian crisis is unfolding, as more and more people are displaced by the relentless fighting.

Within Sudan, 4.5 million people have been internally displaced since April, when the war began, while 1.2 million have fled to neighbouring countries like Chad, Egypt, South Sudan, Ethiopia and the Central African Republic (CAR). The overwhelming majority of the refugees (in some cases, as in the CAR, nearly 90 per cent) are women and children.

Recent fighting in the Darfur region has caused even more displacement with thousands of people struggling to find shelter and many sleeping under trees by the roadside. We are very concerned about them not having access to food, shelter, clean drinking water or other basic essentials.

Last week I visited Sudan’s White Nile State, where over 433,000 internally displaced persons are estimated to be living. In addition, before the conflict, White Nile State was hosting nearly 300,000 mostly South Sudanese refugees in 10 refugee camps.

The surge in the numbers of displaced people has overwhelmed essential services in the camps. Like in the rest of Sudan, schools have been shut for the last 7 months as displaced people find temporary shelter inside the classrooms. The education and the future prospects of millions of children in Sudan are at risk. And the health situation is disastrous. More than 1,200 children under 5 have died in White Nile State between mid-May and mid-September alone, due to a measles outbreak combined with high levels of malnutrition. At least four children are still dying every week in White Nile State, as essential medicines, personnel, and supplies are lacking.

The exodus of Sudanese refugees to neighbouring countries, meanwhile, is increasing dramatically. In Chad, new arrivals are coming at a rate of some 700 per day. Last week I was in Renk in South Sudan, near the border with Sudan. In recent days, Renk has seen a sharp increase in refugee arrivals. In the week I was there, over 20,000 people crossed the border from Sudan. Some of them were South Sudanese returning to their country but most, about 70 per cent of them, were Sudanese citizens.  

A transit centre in Renk built for 3,000 people now has about 20,000 – most of whom are Sudanese refugees. There are people everywhere you walk, and the situation is getting worse and worse. The water and sanitation situation is just ripe for an outbreak of cholera. I’ve been in this work for 30 years and this is probably one of the worst situations I’ve seen.

The numbers are just staggering. Officially, over 362,000 people have crossed into South Sudan since the start of the conflict in Sudan. Relief agencies like UNHCR and others are doing their best to help but we are overwhelmed. Our staff are working night and day, but our capacity is not sufficient to keep pace with the needs. We urgently need funding for the response.

There have been shocking accounts of widespread rape and sexual violence. The UN calls for an immediate end to all gender-based violence, including sexual violence as a tactic of war to terrorize people. There must be accountability for these crimes, as well as medical and psychosocial support for survivors. The parties must put in place mechanisms to prevent recurrence of such violence.

The Regional Refugee Response Plan for the humanitarian needs in all the neighbouring countries that are receiving Sudanese refugees is currently only 39 per cent funded. We are appealing for $1 billion for 64 partners in five countries. A separate appeal for the humanitarian needs inside Sudan is only a third funded. That appeal aims to reach 18.1 million people and requires $2.6 billion.

Both these appeals are vital. Unless we provide urgent humanitarian assistance to the civilian population inside Sudan, they will continue to move to neighbouring countries like South Sudan and Chad, that are struggling to respond to the deepening humanitarian crisis. And if we cannot help those countries to meet the most basic needs of refugees, they will try to find a way to safety and a better future for themselves and their families, even if that means risking their lives by putting themselves in the hands of smugglers and undertaking long and dangerous onward journeys.

I welcome the resumption of the Jeddah talks – and hope they will help at least reach a ceasefire soon.

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For additional information:

In Sudan: 

In South Sudan:

In Nairobi:

In Geneva: