Aid agencies are gearing up for what is expected to be a massive exodus of more than 800,000 refugees and returnees fleeing for safety from war-torn Sudan to neighboring countries at a time when U.N. humanitarian agencies and partners are facing a severe funding shortage.
“As of this morning, the $1.75 billion joint appeal for Sudan in 2023 is only 14 percent funded,” said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “In other words, U.N. humanitarian agencies and our partners are facing a funding gap of $1.5 billion.”
The U.N. refugee agency reports more than 100,000 Sudanese refugees have fled to neighboring countries since fighting erupted between the Sudanese army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces on April 15.
But events are moving quickly. Violence is escalating in the capital, Khartoum, and throughout the country. People are struggling to get food, water, fuel and other critical commodities, pushing an ever-increasing number of desperate people to flee for their lives.
In response to this humanitarian crisis, the UNHCR is drawing up a financial and operational plan based on the 800,000 projected figure. When it is ready, the agency says it will launch an Interagency Regional Refugee Response Plan, which will lay out the preparations being made to deal with the emergency, including financial needs.
The UNHCR notes countries neighboring Sudan already are hosting large refugee and internally displaced populations from previous crises and will require additional support to provide protection and assistance to thousands of newly arriving asylum seekers.
“Among the urgent needs are water, food, shelter, health care, relief items, gender-based violence response and preventions and child protection services,” said Olga Sarrado, UNHCR spokeswoman.
She said the most significant cross-border movements so far have been Sudanese refugees arriving in Chad and Egypt and South Sudanese returning to South Sudan.
An indication of the speed with which things are happening can be seen at South Sudan’s five northern borders with Sudan. A week ago, the UNHCR had registered some 4,000 South Sudanese refugees who had returned home prematurely from Sudan. The agency says that number has now risen to 24,469, as well as 2,800 Sudanese refugees, who have fled to South Sudan for safety.
“We have seen a change in the patterns of people arriving at the border since the first days of the emergency,” said Sarrado. “We saw people arriving with buses, with cars. They had more financial means to pay for this transportation.”
“Those that are arriving now, they are much more vulnerable,” said Sarrado. “They have not had food for days, some of them, and they do not have economic means.”
She said the UNHCR and partners have set up transit centers at the border to provide the new arrivals with emergency assistance, urgent protection and telecommunications service so that they can contact their families, and cash so they can continue their onward movement to other parts of the country.
The scale of displacement inside Sudan has reached a new high. The International Organization for Migration says at least 334,000 people have been displaced within Sudan because of the fighting.
“The number of displaced people in the last two weeks as a result of conflict exceeds all conflict-related displacements reported in 2022,” said Paul Dillon, spokesman for the IOM.
In addition to internal displacement, he said the IOM also is gathering data at various border points in neighboring states.
“Of course, these movements are complicated by a whole series of factors,” he said. These include “instability and lack of security along transit routes, the lack of fuel and transport services for people who are desperate to leave Sudan and are fleeing to safety, as well as inflation in the marketplace.”
He added that staff were seeing some extremely fast-moving situations along the borders. “We are looking at Ethiopia for example, where the number of people arriving daily is between 900 and 1,000 and the needs there are very serious,” he said.
U.N. agencies agree that getting needed supplies to people inside Sudan is particularly difficult. The World Health Organization warns of a looming health disaster because medicine and other essential items are in short supply and only 16% of health care facilities in the country are functioning.
WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said many people are suffering from trauma injuries “so there is a need for supplies to treat trauma wounds, but also there is the issue of access to other health services, including to maternal health and newborn health,” as well as the lack of clean water.
“What we should keep in mind is that the biggest risk for Sudanese people right now is the conflict itself. Patients and health workers cannot access health facilities and services because they are not available,” he said.
The latest report from Sudan’s Federal Ministry of Health puts the number of injuries at 4,620, including 528 deaths — figures U.N. agencies believe are greatly underestimated.