No reprieve from hardship in South Sudan for people fleeing Sudan conflict

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People seeking escape from privations of war and natural disasters in Sudan are unlikely to find any relief in South Sudan. (AFP file photo)
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People wait next to passenger buses as smoke billows in an area in Khartoum where fighting between Sudan's army and the paramilitary forces continues to this day. (AFP file photo)
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Black smoke billows behind buildings amid ongoing fighting in Khartoum. (AFP)
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Updated 01 October 2023

No reprieve from hardship in South Sudan for people fleeing Sudan conflict

  • South Sudan is no stranger to humanitarian crisis, having had its own share since achieving statehood in 2011
  • Experts say the country is in no position to handle the large and sudden influx of displaced people from Sudan

NAIROBI: Civilians displaced by the conflict in Sudan have sought sanctuary in the world’s youngest country next door, the Republic of South Sudan, only to face a daunting new set of challenges.

An estimated 250,000 people — including a large number of South Sudanese who had been living in Sudan — have crossed the border since fighting erupted in Sudan in April, with many now housed in overcrowded camps lacking food, sanitation and basic healthcare services.

High malnutrition rates and outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and measles among the new arrivals testify to the dire health conditions, which aid agencies operating in the area say is one of the many serious causes for concern.

Luggage is transported on a donkey-drawn cart at Sudan’s Qalabat border crossing with Ethiopia on July 31, 2023 amid fighting between the Sudan armed forces and paramilitary RSF. (AFP file photo)

The UN has given warning that the number of people fleeing Sudan could double by the end of the year unless a settlement between the warring parties is reached soon.

Aside from being unprepared to absorb this tide of humanity in search of shelter and sustenance, South Sudan’s own political and economic shortcomings render it an ineffective broker in ending the conflict in Sudan.

This is despite the mediation efforts of South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, who recently hosted Sudan’s de-facto leader and head of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, in the capital Juba.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit, right, welcomes Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Chairman of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council and Sudan’s armed force chief, in Juba, South Sudan, on Sept. 04, 2023. (Handout photo via Getty Images)

South Sudan is no stranger to hardship and adversity, having had its fair share of conflicts since gaining independence in 2011. Like its northern neighbor, from which it seceded, South Sudan is also grappling with political volatility and ethnic strife.

Add to the mix South Sudan’s limited resources and rudimentary infrastructure, and the country is in no position to handle such a large and sudden influx of impoverished people.

“The majority of these refugees are women, children, and young adults, with a notable concentration of youth between the ages of 12 and 22,” John Dabi, South Sudan’s deputy commissioner for refugee affairs, told Arab News.


250,000 Sudanese refugees and South Sudanese returnees who have crossed the border since the conflict began.

5 million Total number of people uprooted by the conflict, including 1 million who have fled to neighboring countries.

7,500 People killed since the onset of violence, according to conservative estimates of the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

Particularly, Juba and the border town of Renk have come under pressure from a sudden explosion in population, which has led to an acute shortage of basic necessities, including food, medicine and shelter.

Then there is the impact of a fickle climate, as South Sudan’s rainy season leads to the flooding of entire districts and turns roads into impassable mud tracks, hindering aid deliveries and access to remote refugee camps.

Predictably, South Sudan’s economy is a shambles, despite the recent launch of the National Economic Conference, which is meant to accelerate development.

A boy walks at a camp for displaced persons in Bentiu, South Sudan. (AFP file photo)

Firas Raad, the World Bank representative in South Sudan, recently urged the government to strive for more stable macroeconomic conditions, robust public financial management, and effective governance reforms to improve conditions for its people.

The parlous state of the country’s economy calls into question Juba’s credibility as a mediator in Sudan’s conflict, Suzanne Jambo, a South Sudanese policy analyst and former government adviser, told Arab News.

“South Sudan still struggles to achieve a stable transition to a permanent status, including a unified army, agreed-upon constitutional arrangements, and fairly elected representatives, not to mention conducting the elections,” she said.

Instability in South Sudan is not just attributable to issues of governance and economics. The ethnic and tribal spillovers of the Sudanese conflict are all too evident, with millions fleeing to neighboring countries and exposing the political divisions within Sudan and along its porous borders.

For instance, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) group has been recruiting fighters from among Darfur’s Arab tribes.

Internally displaced women fetch water from a well in Bentiu in South Sudan. (AFP file photo)

Given the possibility of further escalation of ethnic tensions, experts believe coordinated efforts are essential for the proper distribution of humanitarian aid as well as conflict prevention and resolution strategies.

Sudanese civilians arriving in South Sudan represent a mosaic of backgrounds mirroring the country’s ethnic, racial and religious diversity. To minimize the chances of inter-communal violence, separate settlements, rather than traditional refugee camps, have been established.

“A critical aspect of managing the refugee crisis is preventing inter-community conflicts,” said Dabi, the deputy commissioner for refugee affairs. However, the most pressing issue facing displaced Sudanese in South Sudan is the scarcity of essential resources, he added.

The situation of people who crossed over from Sudan into other neighboring countries appears to be equally dire.

In Chad, where more than 400,000 people have fled the violence in Darfur, aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres says the situation has become so desperate that “people are feeding their children on insects, grass, and leaves.”

People wait next to passenger buses as smoke billows in an area in Khartoum where fighting between Sudan’s army and the paramilitary forces continues to this day. (AFP file photo)

Amid severe shortages, “some have gone five weeks without receiving food,” Susana Borges, MSF’s emergency coordinator in Adre, said in a statement. Camps also lack water, sanitation, shelter, and medical care.

“The most urgent health needs we are dealing with are malaria, diarrhea, and malnutrition,” Borges added. According to the UN, dozens of children under the age of five have already died of malnutrition in Chadian camps.

The conflict in Sudan, now in its fifth month, was triggered by a plan to incorporate the RSF into the SAF.

On April 15 a long-running power struggle between the Al-Burhan and his former deputy, RSF chief Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, suddenly escalated, prompting the evacuation of foreign nationals and embassy staff.

At least 7,500 people have been killed since the conflict began, according to a conservative estimate from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, and the troubled western Darfur region, where the worst of the violence has been taking place, have seen “intensified shelling” as the SAF and the RSF target each other’s bases with “artillery and rocket fire.”

Black smoke billows behind buildings amid ongoing fighting in Khartoum. (AFP)

In central Khartoum, the SAF controls the skies and has carried out regular air strikes, while RSF fighters dominate the streets.

In South Darfur’s regional capital, Nyala, residents say fighter jets have been targeting “RSF leadership.” However, reports from the ground suggest civilians are routinely caught in the crossfire.

UN figures show the fighting has uprooted more than five million people from their homes, including one million who have crossed international borders into neighboring countries.

Over the weekend, a cholera outbreak was reported in eastern Sudan and investigations launched to check whether it had spread to Khartoum and South Kordofan state.

A street vendor sells shoes and slippers in Port Sudan, Sudan, on Sept. 26, 2023. (REUTERS)

The conflict has also seen a surge in gender-based violence, as confirmed by numerous credible reports of rape, human trafficking, and increase in early marriage.

Despite multiple diplomatic efforts to broker a truce, the conflict has continued and intensified, leaving those displaced with little prospect of returning to their homes any time soon.

As South Sudan struggles to accommodate its own citizens previously living in Sudan, a recent visit to the country by Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, suggests the international community is taking notice.

However, Peter Van der Auweraert, the UN humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan, has cautioned there could be a significant decline in humanitarian assistance for the country next year.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, says humanitarian aid organizations are struggling to meet the needs of the displaced, with only 19 percent of the $1 billion requested from donors so far received.


Injuries after Israeli forces target Lebanese army center

Updated 49 min 42 sec ago

Injuries after Israeli forces target Lebanese army center

  • Israeli army targeted a Lebanese army center on Al-Awaida hill, near the border town of Odaisseh, wounding four Lebanese soldiers
  • Negative response to Hamas’ appeal for resistance fighters

BEIRUT: Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israel have continued their hostilities on the front in southern Lebanon following the end of the truce in the region on Friday.

The Israeli army targeted a Lebanese army center on Al-Awaida hill near the border town of Odaisseh, wounding four Lebanese soldiers.

Hezbollah targeted Israeli soldiers at the Ruwaisat Al-Assi site and the Al-Tayhat Triangle, as well as Zabdin in the Shebaa Farms, and Bayyad Blida.

An Israeli drone attacked Lebanese border towns. Artillery was used to target the outskirts of villages and towns, from which most residents had been displaced at the start of military operations.

The Israelis fired flares over the sea coast south of Tyre and over the Blue Line in the western and central sectors. The towns of the Marjayoun district also experienced an Israeli bombardment with heavy artillery shells, flares, and phosphorus bombs causing damage to shops and homes.

Meanwhile, the announcement from Hamas militants in Lebanon of the establishment of “Vanguards of Al-Aqsa Flood” has been met by a negative reaction.

A media report on Tuesday said: “Hamas’ announcement was met with discontent … in southern Lebanon for fear of repeating the 1970s experience of Palestinian armed action from the south.”

Hamas in Lebanon had called on “the brave youth and men (to) join the vanguards of the resistance fighters and participate in the liberation of Jerusalem and the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque, in affirmation of the role of the Palestinian people, wherever they may be, in resisting the occupation by all available and legitimate means, and in continuation of what the Al-Aqsa flood operation has achieved.”

Gebran Bassil, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, said on social media: “We absolutely reject Hamas’ announcement.

“We also consider that any armed action launched from Lebanese territory is an assault on national sovereignty. We recall what the Lebanese agreed upon since 1990 in the Taif Agreement — weapons should be taken away from Palestinians inside and outside of the camps — as well as the agreement upon the cancellation of the Cairo Agreement.

“History has taught us not to become a bargaining chip in times of war, when we can impose our conditions on the table in times of negotiations.”

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora was “surprised” by the statement of Hamas in Lebanon, and added: “The mere idea of bringing back Palestinian armed action from Lebanon is unacceptable and rejected.”

Hesham Dibsi, a Palestinian researcher and director at the Tatwir Center for Studies, told Arab News: “The step is an … attempt to popularize the Oct. 7 operation (and) say that the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon’s camps are with Hamas, and this is not true.”

Former Justice Minister Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi said: “Establishing the ‘Vanguards of Al-Aqsa Flood’ in Lebanon is a grave mistake.

“It harms the Palestinian cause for the benefit of the axis of resistance that trades with it.”

Independent MP Mark Daou said: “Lebanon is a state, not an arena, and Hamas has no right to violate Lebanon.

“We stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people, but we will not accept that the cause be used as an excuse to violate Lebanon and organize non-Lebanese armed forces. Hamas leaders must immediately reconsider this step, or we will consider this a hostile act against the Lebanese and a violation of their security.”

Camille Chamoun, the head of the National Liberal Party, said: “The establishment of the ‘Vanguards of Al-Aqsa Flood’ constitutes a danger and a pretext for a new Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, the destruction of the remaining institutions and infrastructure, and additional tragedies for the Lebanese people.”

Hamas official Ayman Shanaa said in a statement: “We respect the sovereignty of the Lebanese state, and Hamas operates under the umbrella of Lebanese law. Even in resistance actions from the south, we are under the umbrella of the Lebanese resistance.”

Egyptian-Cypriot presidential talks urge Gaza ceasefire, aid push

Updated 05 December 2023

Egyptian-Cypriot presidential talks urge Gaza ceasefire, aid push

  • Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and his Cypriot counterpart Nikos Christodoulides highlighted the requirement for immediate action on Gaza
  • Discussions also centered around ways to further strengthen cooperation between Egypt and Cyprus in several fields, particularly energy

CAIRO: The presidents of Egypt and Cyprus have agreed on the urgent need for the international community to push for a permanent ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.

Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and his Cypriot counterpart Nikos Christodoulides highlighted the requirement for immediate action during talks at the Ittihadiya Palace in Cairo.

Discussions also centered around ways to further strengthen cooperation between Egypt and Cyprus in several fields, particularly energy, while exploring opportunities to consolidate relations not only between the two countries, but Greece too.

But it was the situation in Gaza that dominated their meeting.

Spokesman for the Egyptian presidency, Ahmed Fahmy, said El-Sisi briefed Christodoulides on Egypt’s efforts to broker a permanent end to fighting in the Gaza Strip while ensuring the delivery of humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

Christodoulides noted that his country was keen to work with Egypt on both fronts and El-Sisi pointed out the need for a global consensus on bringing about a two-state solution to the conflict. This, he said, would involve the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Earlier, in a call from Christodoulides to El-Sisi, the latest developments in Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip were reviewed.

The two presidents agreed that international and regional efforts to stop an escalation of the fighting were the top priority.

UN experts name Houthi official who tortured captives

Updated 05 December 2023

UN experts name Houthi official who tortured captives

  • Abdulkader Al-Murtada is the head of the Houthi National Committee for Prisoners’ Affairs and the Iran-backed militia’s negotiator in UN-brokered prisoner swap talks
  • Experts’ judgment has confirmed previous claims made against Al-Murtada by former captives

AL-MUKALLA: A UN panel of experts has named top official Abdulkader Al-Murtada as an abuser of inmates in Houthi detention.

Al-Murtada is the head of the Houthi National Committee for Prisoners’ Affairs and the Iran-backed militia’s negotiator in UN-brokered prisoner swap talks.

The experts’ judgment has confirmed previous claims made against Al-Murtada by former captives.

In its 305-page report on Yemen, the panel accused Al-Murtada and other unnamed Houthis of severely abusing captives within the Central Security Camp prison in Sanaa, which is controlled by Al-Murtada. The treatment had resulted in the death of some detainees, and lasting injuries.

The experts said: “Prisoners are systematically subjected to torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, or punishment perpetrated by the prison’s staff.

“Based on the multiple reports received by the panel, various members of the prison’s management were and still are torturing the prisoners, including Abdulkader Al-Murtada.”

They added that prisoners were subjected to systematic psychological and physical torture inside the Al-Murtada-operated detention facility. Measures included forcing captives to stand for long periods, hitting their heads against the wall, dragging them, beating them with metal or electric wires, and banning doctors from performing lifesaving surgeries on tortured prisoners.

If the detainees asked for medicines, their Houthi captors sold them at exorbitant rates, although these had been received free from relief groups.

The panel also gathered evidence of extortion. Prisoners and their families were forced to pay high amounts to make brief phone calls or to meet, the report said, adding that the phone calls were often allowed “for the sole purpose of requesting families to transfer additional money, which will be administered by the prison’s management on behalf of each prisoner.”

Many former Houthi captives freed as part of prisoner exchange deals between the Yemeni government and the militia have said that Al-Murtada personally tortured them, or that they saw him and his colleagues mistreat inmates.

Citing the case of the kidnapped young Yemeni model and actor Entesar Al-Hammadi, along with other women, the experts said they were subjected to harsh mistreatment by their Houthi captors, with some of the women sexually assaulted and others put on trial.

The report added: “Women in detention are also sexually assaulted, in some cases subjected to virginity tests, and are often prevented from gaining access to essential goods, including feminine hygiene products.”

The report stated that the Houthis had also subjected more than 1 million Yemeni children to indoctrination and brainwashing. The youngsters had joined Houthi summer camps in 2023.

It added: “The panel documented that children as young as 10 years old are exposed to military training. The Houthis are also giving monetary incentives to promote a higher attendance rate in the summer camps by waiving the registration fees for the next school year.”

Hamzah Al-Jubaihi, a Yemeni journalist who suffered at the hands of Al-Murtada before his release in late 2021, thanked UN experts for naming and shaming the Houthi figure and urged the international community to sanction him.

Al-Jubaihi told Arab News: “This person personally tortures the detainees, both physically and psychologically, and he has a terrorist and sadistic mindset, as well as an inferiority problem.

“He was tormenting the inmates in front of me and stamping on their faces with his shoe.”

UN says ‘not possible’ to create ‘safe zones’ in Gaza

Updated 05 December 2023

UN says ‘not possible’ to create ‘safe zones’ in Gaza

  • ‘The so-called safe zones... are not scientific, they are not rational, they are not possible, and I think the authorities are aware of this’

GENEVA: The United Nations warned Tuesday that it was impossible to create so-called safe zones for civilians to flee to inside the Gaza Strip amid Israel’s bombing campaign.
Israel had initially focused its offensive on the north of the territory, but the army has now also dropped leaflets on parts of the south, telling Palestinian civilians there to flee to other areas.
“The so-called safe zones... are not scientific, they are not rational, they are not possible, and I think the authorities are aware of this,” James Elder, spokesman for the UN children’s agency UNICEF, told reporters in Geneva via video-link from Cairo.
His comments came as Israeli troops battled Hamas militants in the southern Gaza Strip after expanding their offensive deeper into the besieged area.
Israel said it was at war with Hamas after the militant group’s October 7 attacks that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and which saw around 240 hostages taken, according to Israeli authorities.
In retaliation for the worst attack in its history, Israel has vowed to eradicate Hamas and secure the release of all the hostages held in Gaza.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says the war has killed nearly 15,900 people in the territory, around 70 percent of them women and children.
As Israel’s offensive pushes deeper into Gaza, international aid organizations have warned that civilians in the densely-populated territory are running out of places to flee to.
Elder insisted that the safe zones declared by Israel “cannot be safe nor humanitarian when unilaterally declared.”
The pretense that there is somewhere safe for people to flee to is “callous,” he said.
He stressed that in a proper safe zone, “you can guarantee the conditions of food, water, medicine and shelter.”
Elder, who spent the past week or so in Gaza, stressed that none of that is assured in the areas designated as safe zones.
“These are entirely, entirely absent. You cannot overstate this. These are tiny patches of barren land, or they are street corners, they are sidewalks,” he said.
“There is no water, no facilities, no shelter from the cold and the rain (and) there’s no sanitation.”
Elder pointed out that in the overcrowded shelters that most of the displaced in Gaza have flocked to there had been around one toilet for every 400 people.
“Now remove those people and put them in... the so called safe places. It’s tens of thousands of people without a single toilet — not one — no clean water, nothing to drink,” he said.
“Without water, without sanitation, without shelter the so called safe zones risks becoming zones of disease.”

WHO: Situation in Gaza ‘getting worse by the hour’

Updated 05 December 2023

WHO: Situation in Gaza ‘getting worse by the hour’

  • WHO representative in Gaza: Humanitarian aid reaching Gaza ‘way too little’
  • WHO deeply concerned about the vulnerability of the health system in the enclave

GENEVA: A World Health Organization official in Gaza said on Tuesday the situation was deteriorating by the hour as Israeli bombing has intensified in the south of the Palestinian enclave around the cities of Khan Younis and Rafah.
“The situation is getting worse by the hour,” Richard Peeperkorn, WHO representative in Gaza, told reporters via video link. “There’s intensified bombing going on all around, including here in the southern areas, Khan Younis and even in Rafah.”
Peeperkorn said the humanitarian aid reaching Gaza was “way too little” and said the WHO was deeply concerned about the vulnerability of the health system in the densely populated enclave as more people move further south to escape the bombing.
“I want to make this point very clear that we are looking at an increasing humanitarian disaster,” he said.
Peeperkorn said WHO had complied with an Israeli order to remove supplies from warehouses in Khan Younis. He said WHO had been told the area would “most likely become an area of active combat in the coming days.”
“We want to make sure that we can actually deliver essential medical supplies,” he said.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday appealed to Israel to withdraw the order. Israel denied asking for the evacuation of warehouses.