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Sudan updates: UN advises against returns amid bloodshed

Published May 5, 2023last updated May 5, 2023

The UN refugee agency has advised governments not to return people to Sudan amid an ongoing conflict there. Meanwhile, Arab ministers will meet in Cairo this weekend to discuss the fighting. DW has the latest.

Sudanese waiting under a makeshift shelter in Port Sudan
Many refugees are waiting in Port Sudan to be processed for evacuationImage: El Tayeb Siddig/REUTERS

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Friday that it was telling governments not to return people to Sudan as fighting between two rival generals continues to rage.

"We're advising governments not to return people to Sudan because of the conflict that's going on there," Elizabeth Tan, UNHCR's director of international protection, told reporters at a briefing in Geneva.

"This applies to Sudanese nationals, to foreign nationals, including refugees who are being hosted in Sudan, stateless persons, as well as those who do not have a passport or any other form of identification," Tan said.

Witnesses said the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, has been hit by further airstrikes and gunfire on Friday in fighting that has killed hundreds and caused almost half a million people to flee their homes.

About 100,000 of those have fled Sudan to neighboring countries, the United Nations says.

The UNHCR said on Thursday said it was preparing for 860,000 people to leave Sudan. It said $445 million (€404 million) would be needed to support them just up to November.

Even before the conflict broke out, some 15 million people — a third of Sudan's population — were in need of food aid, according to UN estimates.

The clashes broke out in mid-April, pitting forces loyal to Sudan's de facto leader, Abdel-Fattah Burhan, who leads the regular army against those of his deputy, Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, known more commonly as Hemeti.

Hemeti commands the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which are descended from the notorious Janjaweed militias that have been accused of committing atrocities during the Darfur conflict two decades ago.

The current fighting has persisted despite threats of US sanctions and multiple truces that have been agreed upon during the three weeks of battles so far.

Here are other key headlines about the crisis in Sudan for Friday, May 5:

At least 190 children already killed in Sudan conflict — UNICEF

The UN children's fund UNICEF warned of the deadly consequences of the ongoing fighting in Sudan for children.

At least 190 children have been killed and 1,700 more injured in the first 11 days of the conflict, UNICEF spokesman James Elder said.

"This means that every single hour, you have seven boys or girls... killed or injured," he said at a press conference in Geneva. "I think this is underlining the enormity of how violent this is."

The figures, collected since hostilities began on April 15, came from health facilities in Khartoum and Darfur, according to Elder, so they don't include children killed or injured in other areas.

"The reality is very likely much worse," he added.

Spanish warship rescues 162 people from Sudan

A Spanish warship brought 162 EU citizens and other nationals to safety from embattled Sudan, including people from Germany, Austria, France and Italy, a spokesman for the EU's External Action Service said.

The Spanish ship, named the Reina Sofia, is now taking them to Saudi Arabia. The evacuation operation was organized by the European External Action Service. It was considered an exceptional operation for those who could not yet be brought to safety by air or other ships in recent weeks.

"Thanks to Spain for having executed naval evacuation with frigate Reina Sofia," tweeted EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, who is a Spanish national. "So far, some 2,500 EU and non-EU citizens have been evacuated by joint European action," he added.

Sudan army says sent envoys to Saudi for cease-fire talks

Sudan's army sent a delegation to the Saudi city of Jeddah for truce talks as a part of a joint Saudi and US initiative, an army statement said.

The delegation left for Jeddah on Friday evening after both warring sides in Sudan said they will only discuss humanitarian cease-fires and not negotiations on ending the war.

Meanwhile, Saudi Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the kingdom's foreign minister, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held talks on the joint initiative to host both Sudanese warring factions in Jeddah, the Saudi foreign ministry said in a statement.

The joint initiative aims at "reducing the levels of tension" in Sudan, the statement added.

Multiple cease-fires have been agreed since the fighting broke out, but almost all have not held. Typically the army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) blame each other for any breaches. 

UN — Prolonged conflict would leave millions more 'acutely food insecure'

If the conflict continues in poverty-stricken Sudan, the number of people facing acute hunger and malnutrition could rise as high as 19 million, a spokesman for the UN secretary-general said, citing the World Food Program.

That's in a country with a population in the region of 45 million, where some 15 million already have too little to eat.

The WFP "projects that the number of acutely food insecure people in Sudan will increase by between two and 2.5 million people. That raises the number to a total of 19 million people in the next three to six months if the current conflict continues," Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for Antonio Guterres, said.

Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Council said it would hold a special session on conflict-torn Sudan on May 11.

The gathering "to address the human rights impact of the ongoing conflict" will take place in Geneva following a request submitted Friday by Britain, Germany, Norway and the United States, which 52 countries have so far supported, the Council said.

More than 1 million polio vaccines lost in Sudan — UNICEF

More than 1 million polio vaccines have been lost as collateral damage in Sudan during the upsurge in violence since April, the UN children's agency UNICEF told Reuters.

"A number of cold chain facilities have been looted, damaged and destroyed, including over a million polio vaccines in South Darfur," Hazel De Wet, deputy director of UNICEF's Office of Emergency Programs, said.

The agency was in the middle of a series of polio vaccination campaigns in Sudan following an outbreak at the end of 2022. Africa was declared free of wild polio in 2020.

Polio, a disease that mainly affects children under 5, can lead to paralysis and death. Africa was declared free of wild polio in 2020 but Malawi, Mozambique and Sudan have reported imported cases since last year.

Falling vaccination rates, partly as a result of the COVID pandemic and partly as a result of misinformation campaigns about the polio vaccine gaining traction among Muslim communities in particular, have led to an increase in cases in recent years.

UN special representative warns of possible spread of conflict

The conflict in Sudan could lead to further violence in the surrounding region, according to Volker Perthes, the UN special representative for Sudan and head of the UN UNITAMS mission.

Perthes told DW that two factors could contribute to destabilizing the region: first, the flow of refugees and, secondly, the influx of fighters into Sudan who are looking to profit from the conflict.

He however declined to confirm reports that the Russian mercenary group Wagner was involved in the Sudan conflict. He also downplayed the reported involvement of Libyan General Khalifa Hifter, saying only that Hifter supported "one of the two parties but has no major role in this war."

He said the UN was working to prevent the war from becoming a prolonged conflict.

"Our aim is to prevent exactly that: that there is a long war that could bring the country to the brink," he said, adding that a monitored cease-fire would have to be the first step in resolving the conflict.

Thousands of refugees flee Sudan for Egypt

Arab ministers to convene in Cairo amid prolonged conflict

Diplomats from nations in the Arab League will meet in Cairo this weekend, with the conflict in Sudan at the top of the agenda, according to Arab League spokesperson Gamal Rushdy.    

The Arab countries hold different views on the conflict. Egypt, for example, is a staunch backer of the Sudanese Army, whereas the UAE is favorable towards the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). 

UN warns of large number of child casualties

The United Nations has said it has received reports indicating that seven children were been killed or injured every hour in the Sudan conflict. 

"As feared and as warned, the situation in Sudan has become fatal for a frighteningly large number of children," James Elder, spokesman for the UN children's agency UNICEF, told reporters in Geneva.

He said his agency had received reports from a trusted partner that 190 children had been killed and 1,700 injured in the first 11 days of the conflict alone. The reports have not yet been independently verified by the UN, he said, adding, however, that the real number was likely to be much higher.

Refugees at the Sudan-Chad border
Children have been among the main victims in the war, the UN saysImage: GUEIPEUR DENIS SASSOU/AFP

Refugee flow likely to heavily impact South Sudan: UNHCR representative 

South Sudan, one of the main destinations for people fleeing the conflict in Sudan, is likely to struggle to host the large number of refugees, according to Marie-Helene Verney, the UNHCR representative in South Sudan.

Verney told DW that refugees started arriving to South Sudan two weeks ago.

"The first week was quiet because people were stuck in Khartoum and really could not leave Khartoum because the fighting was too hard," she said.

She said the UNHCR had recorded 33,000 people coming through one particular border crossing point into South Sudan over the past two weeks but that the real number was likely much higher.

There are about 800,000 South Sudanese who are refugees in Sudan, and the vast majority of those coming back are these refugees, Verney explained.

"So in a way, they're coming back home. But the return was not prepared at all," she said.

Verney said that much of South Sudan was already suffering from a high degree of food insecurity, meaning that the country would have great difficulties assisting the refugees.

In addition, she said South Sudan was largely reliant on its northern neighbor for food, basic goods and oil transit.

"So there's also a huge economic impact on South Sudan that is likely to play out in the next few weeks and months," Verney said.

dh, tj/msh, wd (AFP, Reuters)