Africa | Forcible displacement from conflicts
On April 15th, a conflict erupted between General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militia. The two parties had previously been involved with human rights atrocities in Darfur and were responsible for the coup against authoritarian President Omar al-Bashir in 2019. Following the coup, the country was ruled by an uneasy power-sharing deal between the military and civilian groups called the Transitional Sovereignty Council. A second coup occurred in 2021, led by Burhan, stating that the transitional government was dissolved. Since then, tensions had been building over the civilian demand for oversight and to integrate the RSF into the armed forces. Additionally, contentions existed regarding possible charges for war crimes committed during the Darfur genocide and the 2019 Khartoum massacre, leading Burhan and Hemedti to combat over leadership of the country and an attempt to dodge any international criminal court procedures.
Before the conflict began, Sudan had been hosting at least 808,336 refugees from South Sudan. Sudan held 35% of the 2,307,169 South Sudanese refugees, second to Uganda, who hosted only 2.6% more. Thus far, 151,256 have returned to South Sudan, indicating a large percentage of South Sudanese being displaced for a second time. Other than Sudanese, South Sudanese comprise the largest population of those affected by the conflict. The majority of those fleeing Sudan have been women and children. The primary asylum countries are Egypt, Chad, CAR, and Ethiopia.
There is no current government in Sudan and the warring parties frequently agree and then consistently violate ceasefires. Due to heavy artillery, humanitarian aid access to those in need within Sudan is incredibly limited. Aid has also been diverted by the military, destroyed in bombardments, and looted.
Many who are currently trapped in Sudan or have managed to flee do not have proper documentation. Embassies had held passports during visa processing, and when embassy personnel were evacuated, passports were either locked in the facilities or shredded. There have been multiple reports of Western nations refusing to assist those who need documentation and Egypt has continued to deny entry to Sudanese without passports, leaving hundreds stranded at the border and splitting families. Women and children are exempt from requiring a passport, forcing the men to be left behind. According to an addendum by the UNHCR’s Sudan Country Refugee Response Plan, those without proper documentation are exposed to “protection risks, including detention, extortion, and possible deportation.”
Egypt is already home to 4 million Sudanese migrants, but Egypt remains adamant that assisting those fleeing is only temporary. “Cairo refuses to set up refugee camps and instead says the new arrivals are given the right to work and move freely.” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi repeatedly states that Egypt is hosting "not war refugees" but "guests". Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry stated on May 26, “Egypt is committed to a humane approach towards refugees but needs donors and partners to help.”
In Chad, the situation is increasingly dire, with most arrivals being children. Chad was already home to 400,000 Sudanese refugees and is currently facing a crisis of acute hunger with 2.3 million at risk. Despite being an oil-rich country, Chad is one of the poorest nations in the world, suffering from lack of infrastructure, and multiple conflicts. Since the conflict in Sudan began, the situation in Chad has continued to plummet. The prices of goods and services have risen 70%, invoking a desperate situation for Chadians and new arrivals. Chadian soldiers have reportedly used whips to beat the backs of women who panicked and started grabbing provisions when they saw supplies were running out. Soldiers at the border have also been blocking those attempting to cross or demanding them to pay.
Kar Kar, a rest stop in Anwar, has become the first stop in Egypt for the hundreds of thousands fleeing Sudan. Those fleeing must pay for a bus ticket to reach Anwar despite many leaving the impoverished country of Sudan with little to nothing. Free medical care for those injured is currently being provided at a hospital as well as meals by local volunteers. However, arrivals are not allowed to camp at Kar Kar, and each person must find their accommodation.
In order to protect from gunfire, the UNHCR is relocating refugees from the Chad-Sudan border to existing campsites. “Agencies are facing huge logistical challenges, shortage of funds and are working around the clock to move as many people as possible before the onset of the rainy season in a matter of dates which will make the roads impassable.” While agencies provide shelter, kits, and food, many people live in extreme conditions only receiving assistance from generous locals. Thousands of refugees are sheltering in the open in 40℃ temperatures while they use any materials they can find, including broken branches, to create makeshift shelters. Yet, there is not enough food and water to go around. “The humanitarian community in Chad has developed under the coordination of UNHCR, an interagency response plan which requires $129 million to respond to the projected needs of 135,000 people over the next six months.” Currently, only 21% of the funding has been committed to this plan.
UNHCR’s response plan includes programmes for education, health and nutrition, WASH, food security, shelter, and NFIS. However, the chaotic situation of the crisis has made tracking displaced persons difficult and assisting a constant influx will be insurmountable. At the time of the publication of their plan on June 4, $78,298,024 has been received, but $492,220,483 is still needed. The US is providing over $103 million to Sudan and neighbouring countries and Saudi Arabia has pledged $100 million. The UNHCR has called for $3 billion in aid to assist those in Sudan and who have fled.
As most of the host countries (Ethiopia, Chad, South Sudan) are battling their crises with drought, insecurity, and/or struggling economies, they will unlikely be able to support those fleeing Sudan for the foreseeable future. As the conflict continues, more will flee Sudan, putting further strain on neighbouring countries. Many Sudanese refugees interviewed have stated they “believe it would take a long time, perhaps decades, before they can return home.” As many as 815,000 are expected to flee Sudan, a number that is quickly approaching.
Regional tensions are quickly spreading. Every asylum country was already hosting hundreds of thousands of migrants while facing a variety of stressors. Even Egypt is experiencing an economic crisis, with food price inflation at a rate of 60% as it hosts approximately 9 million economic migrants. The conflict in Sudan will continue to cause further strain on all of its neighbours and will likely cause Chad’s already fragile economy to fully collapse. Economic and security impacts will also be felt by Europe as the conflict endures and heightens. As regional countries become less able or less willing to host, refugees and returnees will seek new locations, exacerbating the ongoing migration crisis to Europe. More lives will be at risk as refugees travel across dangerous territories and unsafely charter the waters.
Spillover effects are increasingly likely, particularly in Chad, CAR, Ethiopia, and South Sudan, all already experiencing their own conflicts. Porous borders will intensify the spread of instability and create a prime environment for terrorist activity who will take advantage of insecurity. Vulnerable populations and soldiers who cannot be paid by their governments, including those in Sudan due to sanctions, will become the perfect target for terrorism recruiting, whether by will or force. Islamic extremists, including the group al-Qaeda, already have a foothold in Sudan and will likely further discord throughout the region, extending Africa’s standing as a “locus of terrorism”.
Many who have fled need critical medications, including those for diabetes and vaccinations. If aid organisations cannot inoculate those in need, outbreaks of diseases like polio, measles, and cholera are likely to spread throughout the region. “Wars, and the chaos they leave behind, often provide the optimal conditions for the growth and re-emergence of communicable diseases.” Additionally, a “surge” of sexual violence cases is being reported, with survivors having limited access to medical services. In addition to the lasting trauma that has long-term effects on a nation and its people, women and girls are at risk of developing lasting physical ailments from rape. Women and girls who have been separated from their husbands, brothers, and sons due to passport restrictions are further endangered of being harmed or killed.
Human trafficking and smuggling is an expected outcome of displacement due to the Sudan conflict. The combination of isolation, informal camps, and poor socio-economic conditions that displaced persons face makes them extremely vulnerable to traffickers. “Displaced persons are also at risk of illegal detention and subsequent coercion into forced labour, either within conflict zones or along migration routes to safer locations.”
Tensions between populations and new arrivals can be expected to build, especially in impoverished areas in host countries. Clashes between ethnic groups at a UN displacement camp in South Sudan resulted in over 20 dead and 50 wounded. Xenophobia or internal conflicts are increasingly likely as resources become scarce and ethnic groups are forced to intermingle.
Agencies are scrambling to set up camps before the rainy season begins this month, which is expected to worsen an already dire situation. As conditions from climate change worsen in the oncoming months and years, displaced persons will face incredible circumstances and continue to migrate across Africa and into Europe. Global warming will catapult existing crises to new levels, further limiting resources, hindering aid organisation response, and resulting in unprecedented death tolls.