War and extreme violence have triggered the mass evacuation of diplomatic and humanitarian workers in Sudan. There have been reports in some of the refugee camps especially the well-known Darfur housing areas have been showered with bullets as the violence continues and people are fleeing. The Minister of Defense, talking about upgrades to helicopters, was asked questions about evacuation from Sudan and reports of mechanical failures to aircraft that are en route to Canada, from Sudan. Turkish flights have been shot at and there’s just a lot of trouble evacuating Sudan and trying to get those who went there on humanitarian efforts to get people home safely. And while the civil unrest settles back down and humanitarian efforts can be reconvened. All the humanitarian efforts have been put on pause and evacuations of aid workers have begun just a few days ago and the Canadian flights have had trouble getting out and getting people to safety.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said that tens of thousands of refugees from South Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea living in the country have fled the fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in the Khartoum area.
The newly displaced have found shelter in existing refugee camps further east and south, creating new humanitarian challenges.
UNHCR is also particularly concerned about the situation in the Darfur region, where fears are deepening of a revival of ethnic tensions.
The agency’s representative in Sudan, Axel Bisschop, told reporters in Geneva that Darfur might present the “biggest challenge” from a humanitarian point of view. “We’re concerned that the inter-communal violence is going to increase and that we might have some situations which will repeat in relation to what we had a couple of years ago,” in a region which has already experienced severe conflict and displacement, he said.
UNHCR stressed that Darfur presents “a myriad of pressing protection issues”, highlighting that a number of sites hosting internally displaced people have been burned to the ground, while civilian houses and humanitarian premises have been hit by bullets.
Concerns over the region are shared by the UN rights office (OHCHR), which warned on Friday of a “serious risk” of violence escalating in West Darfur as the hostilities between the RSF and SAF have triggered inter-communal violence.
OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said that in El Geneina, West Darfur, “deadly ethnic clashes” have been reported and an estimated 96 people have been killed since 24 April.
Guterres ‘deeply grateful’ to governments aiding UN evacuation
The UN Secretary-General expressed his gratitude to France and other nations who have helped with the relocation and evacuation of UN staff from Khartoum and elsewhere this week.
In a statement issued by his Spokesperson, António Guterres highlighted help from France in safely transporting more than 400 UN personnel and dependents out of Sudan.
“The French Navy transported more than 350 of our colleagues and their families from Port Sudan to Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia, on Tuesday night.”
On Thursday, more than 70 UN and affiliated personnel, as well as others, were flown on a French Air Force plane from El Fasher, Sudan, to the capital of Chad.
“We also thank the authorities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Chad, Kenya and Uganda for facilitating the arrival of our colleagues and their families.
The Secretary-General is also very thankful to the many other Member States, including the United States, Jordan, Sweden, Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada, who have assisted in ensuring the safe transport of UN personnel.”
Rights abuses rise
The overall death toll in the conflict has risen to at least 512, according to the latest figures from the Sudanese Ministry of Health quoted by OHCHR on Friday, with the understanding that this is almost certainly a very conservative estimate.
While the fragile ceasefire has led to a decrease in fighting in some areas, allowing some to flee their homes in search of safety, human rights abuses against people on the move – such as extortion – have been rife, Ms. Shamdasani said.
Lifesaving assistance on pause
UNHCR said the security situation has forced it to “temporarily pause” most of its aid operations in Khartoum, the Darfurs and North Kordofan, where it has become “too dangerous to operate”.
“The suspension of some humanitarian programmes is likely to exacerbate protection risks faced by those who rely on humanitarian assistance to survive,” UNHCR warned.
Mr. Bisschop said that UNHCR was working closely with the UN World Food Programme (WFP), to see how the food that is already positioned in the country can be provided.
Brenda Kariuki, WFP’s Regional Communications Officer for East Africa, said that amid the crisis, millions more across the region could be plunged into hunger. In Sudan, security threats to humanitarian operations, as well as the looting of WFP supplies from warehouses and the theft of vehicles used to transport aid, were depriving the most vulnerable of desperately needed assistance, the UN agency said.
Around one-third of the country’s population, or some 15.8 million people, were already in need of aid before the fighting started. The UN’s 2023 Sudan Humanitarian Response Plan, for a total of $1.7 billion, remains only 13.5 per cent funded.
Fleeing into CAR
Briefing correspondents in New York, Deputy UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric, said that humanitarians were reporting some 3,000 people have crossed the Sudanese border into northern Central African Republic, CAR, setting up makeshift settlements.
“Local authorities are exploring the possibility of relocating them in Birao, far from the border region”, and more arrivals are expected.
With Sudan a major supplier of essential goods to CAR, especially during the rainy season, which runs from now through October, prices are ticking up and some items such as sugar and millet have doubled in price in CAR since the fighting began.
Some 120,000 people were already in need of humanitarian assistance in the northern part of the country, highlighting the damaging impact of the fighting spilling across Sudan’s borders.
Healthcare in jeopardy
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported on Thursday that in Khartoum, more than 60 per cent of health facilities are closed and only 16 per cent are operating as normal.