The Sudanese refugee crisis

Khaled Okasha
Tuesday 1 Aug 2023

An effective international response to the Sudanese refugee crisis is still lacking despite escalating humanitarian needs.


Recent reports issued by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have urged the parties to put an end to the conflict in Sudan, notably because there are serious concerns about the increasing number of displaced individuals seeking safety amid the chaos and threats of the crisis.

The UNHCR estimates that more than 740,000 refugees have fled to neighbouring countries, including Egypt, Chad, Ethiopia, and the Central African Republic, where they are facing extremely challenging humanitarian conditions.

Approximately 185,000 refugees who were originally hosted in Sudan have also been forced to move to safer areas within the country after the outbreak of clashes. They are now trapped in an endless cycle of continuous displacement.

The UNHCR has recorded the staggering total of around 3.5 million people who have been displaced across the Sudanese borders and internally since the conflict began in April last year. While it appreciates those countries that have kept their borders open to receive these refugees, it continues to call for the removal of any barriers preventing civilians from seeking safety and receiving aid, including unregistered individuals.

The humanitarian situation is grim, and neighbouring countries have been at the forefront of response efforts. However, the reluctance of international donors to provide the urgently needed $566 million for refugee assistance has hindered joint response efforts among aid agencies operating inside Sudan.

Recent reports have highlighted the dangerous consequences of the escalating conflict in the Darfur, Kordofan, White Nile, and Blue Nile regions of Sudan, leading to widespread internal displacement and hundreds of civilian casualties. The crisis has also taken its toll on the newly arrived refugees, with nearly 300 South Sudanese refugee children dying from measles and malnutrition in White Nile State.

The UNHCR is striving to provide essential relief materials and shelter to the newly displaced and refugees within Sudan and neighbouring countries. However, it faces significant challenges in delivering hot meals, clean water, and healthcare, especially as the border areas are overcrowded with a continuous influx of people. The impending threat of floods further complicates humanitarian aid delivery.

Ironically, Sudan was already home to a substantial refugee population, ranging from 1.1 to 1.5 million people, mostly from Ethiopia, Eritrea, and South Sudan, even before the current crisis began. Moreover, there were over four million internally displaced Sudanese citizens across different regions and states. Yet, the effective international responses to address and alleviate this situation have been lacking.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has issued a desperate plea in this regard, saying that “these numbers are staggering. It is distressing that civilians who have no involvement in this conflict are forced to flee their homes and lose their livelihoods everyday.”

Many displaced individuals within Sudan and those who have managed to reach neighbouring borders face tremendous challenges in preserving their lives. Some have tragically lost them despite the protection efforts. The situation calls for comprehensive responses that prioritise protection alongside aid and sustenance.

All the parties involved, including those from outside Sudan, must realise that it is high time to put an end to this catastrophic war.

In Egypt, the UNHCR leads joint coordination efforts with other UN agencies in collaboration with the Egyptian government to provide support and protection for those seeking international refuge by crossing from Sudan. The UN delivers aid, distributed by the Egyptian Red Crescent, to the incoming refugees. This system is a testament to success even in the toughest conditions, despite the increasing numbers arriving on a monthly basis.

The international community, along with the Sudanese authorities, must pay attention to the urgency and gravity of the situation. The humanitarian dimensions of the crisis are evident, and they cannot be overlooked either by the naked eye or official statistics.

* The writer is the general director of the Egyptian Centre for Strategic Studies (ECSS).

* A version of this article appears in print in the 3 August, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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