Geneva — The United Nations refugee agency is appealing to states next to conflict-ridden Sudan to keep their borders open to people seeking safety and protection.
Since fighting between the Sudanese army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces erupted April 15, tens of thousands of Sudanese have been forced to leave their homes in fear of their lives.
Filippo Grandi, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, has echoed repeated calls made by the U.N. secretary general for hostilities to cease immediately, “and for all parties to embark on meaningful peace efforts.
“This is urgently needed,” he said, “to prevent another major displacement crisis that could further destabilize a fragile region.”
Despite an extension of the latest cease-fire between the warring parties, more fighting was reported in Khartoum and the western Darfur region on Thursday.
Farid Aiywar, head of delegation of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Sudan (IFRC) expressed deep concern that after nearly two weeks of fighting “there has been no sign of improvement or any kind of a letdown in terms of the fighting and also ease of humanitarian challenges.”
He said, “The main problems continue to be shortage of food, water, medicine and fuel, and limited communication and electricity. In Khartoum, families continue to be held up in their homes and calling for evacuations. However, most areas are not yet safe for them to move,” he said.
The World Health Organization reports it has recorded 4,075 injuries and 459 deaths in the 25 remaining functional health facilities although “this is really much under reported,” said Nima Saeed Abid, WHO representative in Sudan.
“The actual number [of deaths] is much higher,” he said adding that 32 percent of health facilities in the country were completely closed due to security attacks and that some had been converted to military bases.
IFRC representative Aiywar said more than 40,000 trained Red Crescent volunteers stationed in all 18 Sudanese states were ready to support humanitarian services when the situation improved.
Unfortunately, the continued fighting appears set to trigger more displacement inside and outside the country as more people flee in search of safety.
UNHCR spokeswoman Olga Sarrado said her agency is working closely with partners and governments in the region to assess the needs of newly arriving refugees and were scaling up efforts to assist them.
“The humanitarian impact of this crisis will be harsh,” she said noting that Sudan hosted more than 1 million refugees and cared for 3.7 million internally displaced before the conflict began.
“All UNHCR operations in Sudan’s neighboring countries impacted by this new emergency already have existing large refugee and IDP populations and are also severely underfunded,” she said.
At least 20,000 Sudanese refugees reportedly have fled to Chad from Darfur, one of the regions in Sudan most affected by violence.
Their arrival is placing enormous strain on the country’s overstretched resources as Chad already shelters more than 400,000 Sudanese refugees from previous conflicts,
“The majority of those arriving are in dire need of basic humanitarian aid, namely food, water, and adequate shelter,” said Anne Kathrin Schaefer, chief of Chad mission for the International Organization for Migration.
She said that “we believe a considerable number of those arriving are Chadians as well as nationals from other countries who lived in Sudan and will require immediate assistance to return to their communities of origin and reunite with their families.”
Large numbers of Sudanese also reportedly are arriving in Egypt.
So far, the UNHCR has registered at least 4,000 South Sudanese who have been forced to prematurely return home. Marie-Helene Verney, UNHCR Representative in South Sudan, noted that much larger numbers of unregistered people have been rushing through the country’s northern border with Sudan.
Speaking from Juba, she said most of the South Sudanese refugees have fled from Khartoum and were returning home to a situation of deep uncertainty.
“With 800,000 South Sudanese refugees in Sudan, an unknown number of South Sudanese still in Sudan, many of them will be coming back to the five northern states in South Sudan that are already extremely fragile–a mixture of conflict, climate change, and food insecurity.”
Verney said the five northern states depended on the pipeline from Sudan to get food and basic goods into their villages.
“We are very, very concerned about the impact on communities” if many South Sudanese refugees return, she said, “particularly in the places where there is conflict and communities are already affected by climate change.”
She added that 75 percent of South Sudan’s population of almost 12 million depended on humanitarian assistance and warned that the UNHCR was seriously concerned that “a large, unplanned number of new returns could destabilize already struggling local communities.”