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Refugee flight from Sudan surging as war rages, funds dry up

FILE - Sudanese refugees collect water from a borehole at the Gorom Refugee Camp hosting Sudanese refugees who fled fighting in their homeland, near Juba, South Sudan, Jan. 26, 2024.
FILE - Sudanese refugees collect water from a borehole at the Gorom Refugee Camp hosting Sudanese refugees who fled fighting in their homeland, near Juba, South Sudan, Jan. 26, 2024.

The U.N. refugee agency is expanding a humanitarian appeal for Sudan, as increasing numbers of people flee the country’s war and widespread hunger in search of safety in neighboring countries.

The UNHCR reports more money is needed to aid and protect the swelling population of Sudanese refugees, and it is revising its appeal to $1.5 billion, up from $1.4 billion it requested in January. The appeal will help 3.3 million refugees and the local communities hosting them in neighboring countries through the end of the year.

Ewan Watson, UNHCR head of global communications, has just returned from visits to Sudan’s White Nile State and a to the Renk and JamJin refugee camp in South Sudan’s Unity State.

He described the situation there as “incredibly difficult, confusing, dangerous, and an appalling tragedy for civilians both still in Sudan and those who have had to leave the country due to the violence.”

Briefing journalists Tuesday in Geneva, Watson said “It is one of the most neglected crises globally and for us, it is the most pressing displacement crisis in the world right now.”

Since the conflict began in mid-April 2023, he noted that 10 million people have fled their homes in Sudan, “with many displaced multiple times.”

Of these, the UNHCR reports nearly 8 million are displaced inside Sudan, while nearly 2 million people have gone to neighboring countries.

Money from the January appeal has been used to assist Sudanese refugees who fled to the Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, and South Sudan.

FILE - Volunteers distribute food to residents and displaced people in Omdurman, Sudan, March 8, 2024.
FILE - Volunteers distribute food to residents and displaced people in Omdurman, Sudan, March 8, 2024.

The UNHCR’s revised appeal has been expanded to include two new countries, Libya and Uganda. Since last year’s power struggle between rival generals from the Sudanese Armed Forces and paramilitary Rapid Response Forces triggered this catastrophic conflict, the UNHCR has registered 20,000 new arrivals in Libya from Sudan, mainly fleeing Darfur.

“We understand that thousands more have arrived in Libya that are not registered and are in the East of the country. With more refugees continuing to arrive since the escalation of fighting in the Darfur region, local services available across the country are really overstretched,” Watson said.

“Refugee families are being forced to sleep in the open as there is a lack of shelter,” he said. “Medical facilities also cannot keep up with growing needs and this is putting children, in particular, at risk of malnutrition.”

He observed that Uganda, which already was the largest refugee hosting country in Africa, is fast becoming home to a burgeoning Sudanese refugee population.

Since the outbreak of the war, he said more than 39,000 Sudanese refugees have fled to Sudan, “with 70 percent fleeing just this year. This is three times more than was initially expected or predicted.”

“Most of them are arriving from Khartoum and have university level education and are looking to rebuild their lives,” he said, noting that most are being hosted and receiving humanitarian aid, including food, shelter, and health care in the Kiryandongo refugee settlement in the west of the country.

“As more people arrive, these services continue to be stretched, while resources to expand assistance are lacking,” he said, adding that only 19 percent of the money required to run its humanitarian operations has been received. “This is abysmally insufficient to cover the most basic needs for people forced to flee. The cost of inaction is having grave consequences for refugees.”

The UNHCR official said heavy rains expected in some of the hosting countries risk complicating the delivery of humanitarian aid, particularly in border areas. He appealed to international donors to provide the funds needed to help strengthen government-led efforts to deliver critical assistance to millions of vulnerable people.

Otherwise, he warned more and more refugees will be forced to seek help “further afield in countries such as Libya, which are extremely difficult for refugees.”

Last week, the United Nations published alarming new data showing that the rapid deterioration in food security in Sudan has left 755,000 people “in catastrophic conditions with a risk of famine in 14 areas.”

Reacting to this latest food assessment by the Integrated Phase Classification, IPC, heads of three leading U.N. agencies warned that “Sudan is facing a devastating hunger catastrophe on a scale not seen since the Darfur crisis in the early 2000s.”

In its latest update of fighting between the SAF and RSF in the southern town of Sinja the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, reports that more than 60,000 people have fled Sinja for safety, most moving east toward the state of Gedaref.

“The fighting continues, and people are on the move as we speak so the situation is very volatile and these numbers could increase in the coming days,” Vanessa Huguenin, OCHA spokesperson told journalists in Geneva on Tuesday.

“We and our humanitarian partners are present in Gedaref and are preparing for the arrival of people that have been displaced by the clashes, with food and nutrition supplies … We have a window of opportunity to act but time is running out and we need more funding and access,” she said.