Sudan: Refugees struggle to survive in crisis-ridden South Sudan

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A Sudanese refugee holds her child at the Gorom refugee camp, near Juba in South Sudan, on 20 June 2023 (Reuters)

After fleeing war at home, thousands find themselves without basic aid in ‘overstretched’ southern neighbourUnder a thin plastic sheet, Yasir Yousuf Araman sleeps on the floor with dozens of Sudanese refugees. 

Cramped in an overcrowded and under-equipped makeshift camp in neighbouring South Sudan, he and thousands like him have moved from one nightmare into another. 

War in Sudan between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces has displaced 2.5 million people. 

At least 122,000 have fled to South Sudan, a country already suffering dire humanitarian conditions and a fragile security situation.

Middle East Eye spoke with several refugees who recently arrived at the Wadwil refugee centre in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state from the Darfur region, which has witnessed some of the most violent fighting in the Sudan war.

They describe inadequate shelter, lack of food and health services, poor hygiene and overcrowding at the makeshift camp. 

Araman had recently fled from the el-Geneina city in West Darfur, where 1,500 people have been killed since the war broke out on 15 April, including at least 1,000 women and children, according to aid workers. 

“The plastic sheet is erected like a tent, and we sleep on the floor, and it gets worse when there is rain,” the 43-year-old told MEE. He warned that cases of pneumonia may be high at the site and pointed to other risks the refugees face.

“It is a difficult situation because who knows what the mind can decide at night when boys and girls, women and men, share the same room. Cases of unwanted sex may occur,” he said

No aid

The Wadwil makeshift camp was hosting 4,401 refugees as of 27 June, with people continuing to arrive from Darfur every day, according to Dut Majokdit, the chairperson of the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC) in Northern Bahr el Ghazal. 

Overall, around 9,500 Sudanese nationals have fled to South Sudan out of 122,000 who crossed the border from the war-torn country, according to UN figures. The rest are returning South Sudanese citizens. 

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Charlotte Hallqvist, spokesperson in South Sudan for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, told MEE that people have arrived after difficult road journeys, often facing attacks and robberies on their way. 

Delivering aid to them once they arrive has also been difficult because the humanitarian response is “overstretched” and the onset of the rainy season has complicated operations further. 

“Delivering humanitarian support in remote border areas is both costly and complex,” Hallqvist told MEE via email. 

“As fighting in Sudan continues, arrivals are expected to increase, and there is an urgent need to scale up the humanitarian response,” she said, adding that the UNHCR and partners are appealing for $96m to avoid the crisis worsening. 

Eating wild leaves 

The conditions have already reached rock bottom for many in Wadwil. 

Nejuma Ali Khalid Khadija, who was used to three meals a day before the war, is now having to rely on wild leaves to feed herself and her children. 

“I follow fellow women to the nearby bush to collect wild leaves, just for survival,” she told MEE. 

“My children refused to eat these leaves in the first days after we arrived, but are now getting used to it.”

Fathna Abdullah is facing similar challenges in providing for the 12 children in her care. 
“I do not have containers for stocking water, I do not have utensils for cooking, and my family eats from one plate,” Abdullah said.

‘My children refused to eat these leaves in the first days after we arrived, but are now getting used to it’

– Nejuma Ali Khalid Khadija, Sudanese refugee

A lack of clean toilets is forcing people to wait until night-time to empty their bowels under the cover of darkness. 

“Latrines which are constructed are very few compared to the population,” Sheik Abdullah Mohammed, another refugee, told MEE.

“We struggle with holding ourselves until night-time because it is against the culture here to defecate in the bushes where people could see you during the day.”

Setting up solid structures such as shelters and latrines is challenging due to a lack of supporting materials such as poles, said refugee Babikir Hamed Hamdan. 

South Sudan struggling 

South Sudan has already been dealing with a displacement problem of its own, with nearly 2.2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) from years of conflict, insecurity and the impact of climate change. 
According to the UN, out of the country’s 11 million population, 9.4 million have required humanitarian assistance in 2023. 

But the needs in the country have “fallen out of the spotlight”, said Hallqvist, leading to severe underfunding. 

This means that an influx of people coming from Sudan will complicate aid efforts further, warned Edmund Yakani, the executive director of the NGO Community Empowerment for Progress Organization. 
“[The crisis in Sudan] adds more pressure on the humanitarian actors, who are already stretched,” Yakani said. 

“The chance of friction between South Sudan IDPs and Sudan refugees over limited land space and other resources is very likely,” he said. 

Children who fled Sudan arrive at the UNHCR transit centre in the border county of Renk in South Sudan  1 May 2023 (Reuters)
Children who fled Sudan arrive at the UNHCR transit centre in the border county of Renk in South Sudan 1 May 2023 (Reuters)

According to Majokdit of the RRC, Wadwil is the biggest refugee transit centre in an area already struggling to provide for 17,000 internally displaced people.

He said heavy floods last year displaced 70 percent of the state’s population and destroyed more than 80 percent of crops, leaving the host communities in need of assistance.
“All in all, we are facing a lot of challenges in meeting the needs of food, shelter, and health for everyone arriving from Sudan now,” he said. 

For now, authorities are trying to distribute basic food items such as rice, flour and beans.

But with refugees and returnees still coming in big numbers, it will be difficult to meet the needs of everyone, Majokdit said. 

Unless Wadwil becomes an official refugee camp, “we cannot supply things like health services, education and other [needs]”.

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Disclaimer: Sudan: Refugees struggle to survive in crisis-ridden South Sudan - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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