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UNHCR: Heightened risks, violations and sexual violence reported by civilians fleeing Sudan

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UNHCR: Heightened risks, violations and sexual violence reported by civilians fleeing Sudan

The following statement is attributed to Gillian Triggs, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection.
15 June 2023 Also available in:
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Civilians in Sudan continue to face a litany of human rights violations, abuses and sexual violence. This is according to the findings of a new Protection Brief from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

Despite agreed ceasefires and commitments by the parties to abide by international humanitarian law and given the collapse of law and order and related widespread criminality, civilians remain at imminent risk of attack – killed, injured, assaulted and robbed, especially in areas of intense fighting in Khartoum, Kordofan and Darfur states.

Reports from our protection and field teams in neighboring Chad, Central African Republic, Egypt and South Sudan have also described the horrific ordeals faced by women and girls in Sudan. Shocking incidents of sexual violence, including rape, sexual assault, sexual exploitation and physical violence, have been reported by women and girls who have fled the conflict. These incidents are reportedly perpetrated by fighters, criminals and smugglers against civilians in Khartoum and other areas, as well those on the move.

In addition to lasting physical, sexual, reproductive and mental health consequences, some survivors have now arrived in neighboring countries pregnant as a result of rape. Although women and girls are disproportionally affected by sexual violence, boys and men are also reported to be among the survivors. Yet specialized services remain limited in transit and reception facilities.

Women have also cited the risk of gender-based violence (GBV) as a reason for their flight from Sudan – concerned for their personal safety and that of their children. Some have reported fighters looting homes and sexually assaulting women and girls, while others have shared reports of sexual harassment and sexual exploitation, including at checkpoints or during their journeys to safety. Adolescent girls are facing an increased risk of child marriage as some families are forced to resort to this harmful practice – reportedly in an attempt to “shield” them from further risks of sexual violence, assault or exploitation. 

Children also remain at acute risk of physical and psychological harm, amid reports in Sudan of killing, maiming and recruitment of youngsters into armed forces. Some have been separated from or have lost family members or other caregivers, rendering them even more vulnerable. They may experience severe mental health and psychosocial consequences from the experience of conflict and flight, with further risk of neglect, violence and exploitation in situations of displacement. Deprived of family and community support systems and care, children are even more at risk of forced labour, recruitment, trafficking or GBV, especially in East Sudan.

While smuggling networks existed before the conflict, particularly in eastern Sudan, smuggling and human trafficking risks are clearly on the rise. This may be partially due to the lack of alternative opportunities to reach the border, the urgency of people to escape insecurity and deprivation, forcing them to resort to taking dangerous routes. Refugees fleeing certain areas, including Eastern Sudan, have reported that some smugglers are adjusting their models, shifting routes to meet demand and charging exorbitant amounts for journeys to neighboring countries.

The shocking array of human rights violations – including attacks and violence against civilians – must stop.  Women, girls, men and boys trying to access safety and security, protection and assistance within or outside Sudan must be able to do so in a safe and non-discriminatory manner. Continued and effective access by humanitarian actors, including national and international NGOs, is also crucially needed to ensure critical aid can be delivered immediately to the most vulnerable.

UNHCR reiterates its call on all States to keep their borders open for civilians fleeing Sudan and to remove any impediments to entry in order to ensure people – including undocumented individuals – are able to effectively access protection and assistance, mitigate risks of additional violence and exploitation and prevent people from having to resort to the help of smugglers.

For more information, please contact:

Notes to editors:

Two months into the conflict, more than 470,000 people have fled Sudan. More than half, some 56 per cent, are women and girls. In Chad and CAR, 90 per cent of refugees who have arrived are women and children.

In neighbouring countries including Egypt, Chad, South Sudan, CAR and Ethiopia, which host new arrivals from Sudan, UNHCR is providing arrivals with life-saving services and support through its partners – including medical assistance, psychosocial support and other emergency assistance. In some areas, women and girls’ safe spaces are being established, as well as listening centres and child-friendly centres, which have specific schedules for women and girls, and men and boys respectively, to enable everybody to access GBV services - given that males may have been subjected to violations as well.

In neighbouring countries, UNHCR and partners are working on strengthening GBV prevention, mitigation and response interventions, promoting the leadership of refugee women and girls. UNHCR GBV specialists have also been deployed in key locations and are supporting the scale-up of quality GBV services and contributing to capacity strengthening efforts, also conducting GBV service mapping and updating referral pathways to ensure timely access to services for all survivors. UNHCR is also leading on GBV inter-agency coordination in refugee settings.

While UNHCR continues to mobilize protection and assistance inside Sudan and in neighboring countries, resources are threadbare, despite mounting humanitarian needs. Less than 9 per cent of dedicated funds have been received to date for requirements totaling $253.9 million to support UNHCR’s humanitarian response inside Sudan and in neighboring countries including Chad, Egypt, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Ethiopia.

More information is available in the report.