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British nationals board an RAF aircraft in Khartoum. Ministry of Defence/PA

Sudan conflict could force 800,000 people to flee, says UN

Fighting between the Sudanese army and a paramilitary group is in its third week.

LAST UPDATE | 1 May 2023

THE FIGHTING RAGING in Sudan could spur more than 800,000 people to flee into neighbouring countries, the United Nations has warned.

The UN’s refugee agency UNHCR said that it was now working with a planning figure of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the violence that erupted in Sudan on 15 April.

“UNHCR, with governments and partners, is preparing for the possibility that over 800,000 people may flee the fighting in Sudan for neighbouring countries,” the agency’s chief Filippo Grandi said in a tweet.

“We hope it doesn’t come to that, but if violence doesn’t stop we will see more people forced to flee Sudan seeking safety.”

Grandi’s tweet, which was verified by his office, came as gun battles and explosions again rocked Sudan’s capital despite the latest truce formally agreed between the warring parties, and amid UN warnings that the humanitarian crisis had brought the country near its “breaking point”.

More than 500 people have been reported killed since fighting erupted between Sudan’s army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who commands the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

The chaos and bloodshed, now in its third week, has sparked a mass exodus to neighbouring countries including Egypt, Chad and the Central African Republic.

egypt-argeen-land-port-sudan-border-crossing A man crosses into Egypt through the Argeen land port with Sudan Xinhua News Agency / PA Images Xinhua News Agency / PA Images / PA Images

The latest figures from UNHCR teams on the ground showed that at least 73,000 people have already arrived in those countries from Sudan, a spokesman said, adding that that figure included both Sudanese nationals and mainly South Sudanese refugees returning home.

Sudan hosted 1.13 million refugees before the conflict started – one of the largest refugee populations in Africa – including some 800,000 from South Sudan.

The fighting has also triggered a mass exodus of foreigners and international staff, with countries the world over launching frantic evacuations by land, sea and air.

sudan-unrest British nationals arrive at Stansted Airport outside London after being airlifted from Sudan PA PA

sudan-omdurman-evacuation People wait to be evacuated near an airport in Omdurman, Sudan Xinhua News Agency / PA Images Xinhua News Agency / PA Images / PA Images

Grandi’s estimate of how many people could ultimately flee the violence marked a dramatic increase from last Tuesday, when UNHCR gave a planning figure of possibly 270,000 people fleeing into neighbouring Chad and South Sudan.

‘Breaking point’

Millions of Sudanese around the capital and beyond have sheltered in their homes with dwindling food and water and frequent power cuts, as fighter jets thundering through the sky on bombing raids have drawn heavy anti-aircraft fire.

“The scale and speed of what is unfolding is unprecedented in Sudan,” said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN chief Antonio Guterres. “We are extremely concerned by the immediate as well as long-term impact on all people in Sudan, and the broader region.”

Top UN humanitarian official Martin Griffiths was heading to the region to help bring relief to the millions “whose lives have turned upside down overnight”.

“The humanitarian situation is reaching breaking point,” Dujarric said.

smoke-rises-in-khartoum-sudan-saturday-april-29-2023-as-gunfire-and-heavy-artillery-fire-continued-despite-the-extension-of-a-cease-fire-between-the-countrys-two-top-generals-the-battle-for-pow Smoke rises in Khartoum Alamy Alamy

Fighting has spread across Sudan, including to the long-troubled Darfur region.

The UN said at least 96 people were reported killed in El Geneina, West Darfur, where supplies were seen strewn across the floors of badly damaged hospitals.

Daglo’s RSF emerged from the notorious Janjaweed that were unleashed in a scorched-earth campaign in Darfur from 2003 by former strongman Omar al-Bashir, who faces charges of war crimes and genocide.

The RSF include fighters who have seen battle in Yemen where they were sent to back a Saudi-led campaign supporting the government against Huthi rebels.

Further complicating Sudan’s battlefield situation, Central Reserve Police were being deployed on the side of the army across Khartoum to “protect citizens’ properties” from looting.

The US Treasury Department last year sanctioned the Central Reserve for “serious human rights abuses” related to “excessive force” against pro-democracy protests after the 2021 coup that brought Burhan and Daglo to power.

UN facilities looted

The UN has warned the unrest could plunge millions more into hunger in a country where 16 million people already needed aid to stave off famine.

Only 16 percent of Khartoum’s health facilities are functioning, says the UN World Health Organisation.

The fighting was pushing Sudan’s already ailing health sector toward “disaster”, warned the WHO’s regional director for the eastern Mediterranean, Ahmed al-Mandhari.

He warned of the growing threat of cholera, malaria and other diseases as the rainy season nears and safe water supplies are becoming scarce.

A first Red Cross plane yesterday took eight tonnes of medical supplies from Jordan to Port Sudan, which has served as an evacuation hub.

The UN World Food Programme has resumed activities in Sudan after over two weeks of suspension following the deaths of three of its aid workers.

Regional powers have joined negotiations to help end the violence.

An envoy of Burhan’s met yesterday in Riyadh with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, who called for the restoration of calm in Sudan.

Egypt, in an Arab League emergency meeting in Cairo, proposed a draft resolution Monday that called for an “immediate and comprehensive cessation” of fighting.

© AFP 2023

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