UNHCR warns more than 800 000 people may flee Sudan due to conflict

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The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is now warning that more than 800 000 people may flee Sudan as a result of the ongoing fighting between two military factions as the Secretary General dispatched his humanitarian Chief to the region over the weekend.

Two weeks after the fighting erupted in the capital Khartoum and other parts of the country, the humanitarian situation has reached a breaking point with the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths pointing to the increased scarcity of essential goods and services, including access to water, food, fuel and other critical commodities, as reports of possible direct talks between the warring parties begin to emerge.

Tens of thousands of people have already fled Sudan, with many seeking safety in neighbouring countries including Chad, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia and Libya among others, an already fragile region now grappling with the impact of this latest conflict.

Senior Emergency Coordinator for UNHCR in Chad, Brice Degla says, “UNHCR strategy here for the response, is first to assist people coming, to make sure the welcoming process is well done, first point. The second thing is to ensure that all the protection concerns are clearly understood and then addressed, so we have deployed a lot of stuff for the registration which is key for the beginning of the response, we need to know the nature of the people we want to support so registration is the first activity ongoing and secondly, we are trying to make sure that we have a proper border control movement, to have the new people incoming in the border so that we can monitor also that situation. But the third is the assistance in terms of water, education, health.”

More than 500 people have been killed and over 4 500 injured and an extension by 72 hours of a ceasefire agreed last week appears to be faltering, with heavy fighting and insecurity driving people away from their homes.

‘Biggest challenge is Darfur’

UNHCR Representative in Sudan, Axel Bisschop says, “The biggest challenge we will have is Darfur. Darfur has already faced the wrath of inter-communal conflict and displacement. Now with this added-on crisis, the humanitarian situation will be very, very difficult. We also are concerned that the impact of 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. We are also very, very worried about the continued movement of both internal displacement and also of refugees that now leave places like Khartoum but also Darfur to seek safety in other areas.”

The UN Secretary General will be in Kenya from Tuesday to chair meetings of the UN’s Chief Executive Boards of Coordination and attend a state dinner at the invitation of Kenya’s President where the issue of Sudan is likely to feature prominently while Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths is expected to travel to Sudan on Tuesday as well.

UN Secretary-General Spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric says, “Martin’s remit is on ensuring the proper coordination of humanitarian aid, on ensuring that we see a scaling up of humanitarian aid that arises. And he will do whatever he can to do that. But I don’t want to, the situation is rather volatile. I don’t want to predict what will happen.”

Still, no direct negotiations between the two warring generals but preparations for talks are reportedly underway.

The UN’s top official in Sudan Volker Perthes told the Associated Press that the two sides had agreed to send representatives for negotiations on establishing a more permanent ceasefire that could be monitored by national and international observers.

Those talks could potentially happen in Saudi Arabia but given that the situation remains fluid, the UN Spokesperson here would not confirm those developments while emphasizing the need to immediately stop the fighting for the sake of the Sudanese who are caught up in a catastrophic humanitarian situation that has only deteriorated over the last two weeks.