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Sudan war turning ‘homes into cemeteries’: UNHCR

Displaced people arrive in South Sudan from Sudan through the Joda boarder crossing.
© UNHCR/Ala Kheir
Displaced people arrive in South Sudan from Sudan through the Joda boarder crossing.

Sudan war turning ‘homes into cemeteries’: UNHCR

Peace and Security

The war between rival militaries in Sudan is growing in scope and brutality, having driven almost six million people from their homes since it erupted in April and worsening an already complex humanitarian emergency, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) warned on Tuesday.

“The war that erupted without warning turned previously peaceful Sudanese homes into cemeteries,” said Dominique Hyde, Director of External Relations at UNHCR.

She visited the country last week, and witnessed a surge in human suffering.

“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,” Ms. Hyde added.

Within Sudan, 4.5 million people have been internally displaced since April, when the war began, while a further 1.2 million – mostly women and girls – fled to neighbouring countries, including Chad.

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Repeat of atrocities in Darfur

The UNHCR official highlighted the situation in the volatile Darfur region, where fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has caused even more displacement with thousands 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,” she said.

“It is shameful that the atrocities committed 20 years ago in Darfur can be happening again today with such little attention.”

In July, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) launched an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in the region, following the discovery of mass graves of some 87 members of the ethnic Masalit community, allegedly killed by the RSF and affiliated militia.

Situation in White Nile state

Ms. Hyde also addressed the situation in the White Nile state, where over 433,000 internally displaced (IDPs) are estimated to be living, adding to nearly 300,000 mostly South Sudanese refugees sheltering in some 10 camps there since before the war.

She said the surge in displacement has “overwhelmed” essential services in the refugee camps, noting also that like in the rest of Sudan, schools have been shut for the last seven months as displaced people find temporary shelter inside the classrooms.

The health situation is also particularly alarming, with over 1,200 children under five having died in the province between mid-May and mid-September due to a measles outbreak combined with high levels of malnutrition, and at least four children are dying every week, as essential medicines, personnel, and supplies are lacking.

“In front of one of the refugee camps, you can see mounds of earth and they are just little burial grounds for the children that have died,” Ms. Hyde said.

Exodus into Chad

The crisis in Sudan has also driven an exodus of refugees into neighbouring countries, including Chad, where about 450,000 Sudanese are sheltering since April, adding to those already displaced there from Sudan and other countries.

Despite being one of the poorest countries and confronting grave humanitarian challenges, Chad is hosting nearly a million refugees.

Earlier this year, humanitarians launched a $921 million humanitarian response plan targeting 5.2 million most vulnerable for assistance. However, with barely eight weeks left in the year, it is only 26 per cent funded.

Wage peace, not war: UNFPA chief

Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), who just returned to New York from Chad, briefed reporters at UN Headquarters on Tuesday.

The head of the UN’s reproductive rights agency highlighted her meetings with women leaders and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence and those supporting them, reiterating the importance of empowering women and their allies in building a just, peaceful and prosperous future for Chad.

“And at this fraught moment in human history, it is clear that the fate of humanity does not belong in the hands of men wielding bombs, indeed it rests with women and allies standing together waging peace,” she said.