The civil war in Sudan, pitting the regular army against a paramilitary group, entered its fourth month in mid-July as several million people fled the country. This week, the UN led a mission to neighboring Chad, calling for international solidarity in this extreme emergency.
Three months of war and no end in sight in Sudan. The deadly conflict between General Abdel Fattah al-Burhane’s regular army and the paramilitaries of General Mohamed Hamdane Daglo’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) continues in the capital Khartoum and in the Darfur region in the west of the country, despite attempts at international mediation, which have so far failed.
Shelling and artillery fire were again reported on 19 and 20 July in the capital, causing further casualties. According to the UN, more than 3,000 people have died since the start of hostilities on April 15, while three million have fled the violence, including 730,000 outside the country.
Faced with the gravity of the situation, the UN this week sent a delegation to Chad, a country bordering Darfur, where 260,000 Sudanese have taken refuge. As Sudan’s neighbors warn of the risk of regional contagion from this crisis, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed called on the international community to step up its efforts, condemning a humanitarian “catastrophe”.
In Chad, with @WFPChief and @UN delegation, to appeal for global solidarity in a time of extreme need.
The people of Chad have not turned away from their neighbors.
Now is the time for the international community to stand up for refugees and the host community. pic.twitter.com/ZtE3Fu6JXk
To take stock of the situation, spoke to Frédéric Joli, spokesman in France for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), mobilized on the ground to bring aid to civilians fleeing the conflict.
: The Chadian border is the main exit door for Sudanese fleeing Darfur, how is the situation developing there? ?
Frederic Joli: The massive influx continues with many wounded, women and children. Our teams are trying to support the Chadian authorities and provide a medical response. The ICRC has deployed a surgical antenna in the town of Abéché in eastern Chad, where we transport the most seriously injured people whose condition requires surgical needs. We are also present inside Darfur, in Khartoum as well as in strategic areas such as Wad Madani and Port-Sudan.
The moment is very serious and there is a very real risk of regional contagion because the humanitarian resources are not sufficient to meet the needs which continue to grow. At the Chadian border, the Sudanese who arrive in large numbers settle down wherever they can. This situation accentuates the economic pressure on the countryside, promotes the risk of social tensions and the development of diseases due to the lack of hygiene.
Several humanitarian ceasefires have been announced over the past three months, but these have never really been implemented. How can you operate under these conditions ?
Access to victims remains very complicated in Darfur and Khartoum, and there is no indication that the situation is not improving. The belligerents are firing heavy weapons into densely populated areas, not respecting their obligation to distinguish between combatants and civilians. Our mission is to evacuate the wounded and to protect the wounded combatants who, if they are no longer able to fight, must benefit from the same protection.
In this context, we are obliged to negotiate on a case-by-case basis, to make both parties understand the need to access a street, a neighborhood, to carry out an evacuation operation, which will only be possible if we get the green light from both parties. It is difficult because we cannot take the risk of trading without security guarantees. These negotiations require the establishment of a relationship of trust with the actors in the conflict for whom the humanitarian issue is not a priority. But sometimes it works. This is how they managed to evacuate an orphanage with 300 children at the beginning of June in Khartoum.
Another challenge is helping the Sudanese find their loved ones. With several million internally displaced people, everyone in Sudan is looking for their mother, brother or son, creating enormous stress for the population. We register people who report themselves as looking for relatives. We activate our network to help them again. This involves free access to the phone or even issuing travel permits to people who no longer have papers to join their families. Unfortunately, this second option is currently not possible due to the intensity of the fighting.
What are the most urgent needs that humanitarian work is focusing on today ?
The humanitarian needs are colossal. In the combat zones, 80 hospitals no longer function because they are damaged or simply because the staff no longer dare to go there. The shortage is increasing, especially with regard to drinking water and electricity. For the ICRC, the priority is to support the health services that are still functional and to restore access to water, especially to prevent outbreaks of epidemics.
This conflict, which affects several cities, very quickly took a very high toll, surprising the humanitarian actors. We quickly found that we were unable to absorb the needs. Today we still have no visibility because there seems to be no prospect of a way out of the conflict. Added to this is the lack of humanitarian funding for Sudan. Granted, all lights are red.
We are certainly witnessing an increase in crises, but we have to find a way to manage Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan at the same time. The solution to the conflict must be political, the humanitarians must not solve all the problems, but in the meantime they do what they can. Faced with the emergency, we have no option but to make our operations long-term, and this requires greater mobilization, especially on the part of states.