Refugee crisis in eastern Sudan: “It breaks your heart”

CARE is on the ground assessing people’s needs at refugee camps in eastern Sudan (all photos © CARE)

“When you hear their stories, it breaks your heart. You just can’t imagine the scene and the look on people’s faces.”

Tesfaye Hussein, from CARE Sudan, visited refugee sites in Gedaref and Kassala in eastern Sudan, where people fleeing across the border from conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia are arriving in their thousands. “People are in great distress,” he says, and they “need assistance as soon as possible”:

Most of them have nothing. Some ran with some clothes. Many of them ran without any plan because things just happened.

I asked them why they run, and they told me, because they were afraid for their lives.

People in the Tigray region were already experiencing high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition due to the combined effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, flooding, and desert locust outbreaks. Intensifying conflict has cut off supplies to the region and made it difficult to deliver humanitarian assistance in many places. People fleeing across the border to eastern Sudan are in a desperate state, says Tesfaye Hussein:

They are sleeping on the ground, they don’t have enough food, they don’t have shelter yet. There are around 10,000 people [at the sites he visited]. It is really, really heartbreaking. They have come long distances walking, so they are in poor health and they just need assistance at this time.

CARE staff visits refugee camp in Sudan

CARE is particularly concerned about the safety of women and girls, says Hussein:

There are huge protection concerns. Due to the limited resources humanitarian partners have, when there are limited things to provide, what usually happens is those that are strong get it first, so women and elderly people told me, ‘We are not getting any food. Whenever there is food, the young boys run and take it.’ Even girls were telling me when one of the partners were distributing sanitary pads, the young boys take it.

In this place, everything is a concern.

CARE staff talks to people at refugee camp in Sudan

Hussein has been a humanitarian for more than a decade and describes this situation as one of the worst he has seen. He is concerned about how many people are coming to Sudan at a time when the country is itself experiencing a huge economic crisis. He says:

It is not only for the refugees. The host communities around the refugee areas are more or less in the same boat because there are high levels of food insecurity, they don’t have health services, they don’t have nutrition services, reproductive health services are missing, so we really, really need assistance very, very urgently.

When Hussein visited Village 8 (the main reception centre for refugees arriving in the area) he witnessed widespread and acute levels of hunger. He says:

When I talked to them, some of them they didn’t eat for a day or two. They are really, really hungry. When I spoke to them, some of them couldn’t pay attention, they couldn’t hold their attention together because they are starving.

People waiting in line for aid at refugee camp in Sudan
People waiting in line for aid at one of the refugee camps in eastern Sudan

In coordination with UNHCR (the UN refugee agency) and other partners, CARE aims to provide health and nutrition services in Village 8, where there are currently over 7,000 refugees. We will also provide comprehensive reproductive health services. In Um Raquaba (the main refugee site) we are starting to provide WASH (water, sanitation, hygiene) services. Hussein says:

The first thing we are going to do is rehabilitate existing water facilities to ensure the refugees get water, and then the next phase is to build sanitation services for the refugees. That is what we are planning to do. However, the resources we have are not enough to meet our goals. We are very, very limited and we really need assistance to help these people.

CARE has released $120,000 of internal emergency funds to fund an immediate response, and we are seeking further funds to provide health, nutrition and WASH support to people in Kassala and Gedaref states.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.