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Sudan: Five Years On, Refugees Still Fleeing Conflict

African UnionSudan: Five Years On, Refugees Still Fleeing Conflict

The United Nations refugee agency on 3 June 2016 warned that tragically people are still fleeing violence in Sudan’s South Kordofan State, most crossing into neighboring South Sudan, as the conflict marks its fifth year this weekend.

Sudanese refugee Amal Bakith cooks the first breakfast for her children a day after arriving in Ajuong Thok camp, South Sudan. During their long journey from South Kordofan, they had only rotten food to eat. Photo: UNHCR/Rocco Nuri

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), nearly 250,000 Sudanese refugees have fled to South Sudan, mostly to Unity and Upper Nile, since the start of the war in the Nuba Mountains in 2011.*

“A solution to the conflict and an end to the suffering are needed more than ever, as South Sudan is itself home to some 1.69 million internally displaced people,” UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva.

So far in 2016, more than 7,500 refugees have arrived in Yida in South Sudan’s northern Unity, nearly 3,000 in May alone. The area is already home to some 70,000 refugees.

“With the conflict intensifying, thousands more are expected in the coming weeks,” Edwards said.

Refugees, mainly from Heiban, Um Doreein and Al Boram Counties, speak of escalating violence, including ground attacks and aerial bombings.

Mr. Edwards noted that the recent arrivals also cite lack of food and no access to schools for children as reasons for leaving, especially in and around Um Doreein.

According to refugees who have arrived this week, the conflict has recently shifted to the north-east part of South Kordofan, with some people trapped in conflict areas and unable to escape.

90 per cent of new arrivals women and children

Nearly 90 per cent of new arrivals are women and children. One child in every 10 is alone or without a family member.

At the Yida transit centre, UNHCR and its partners are providing immediate assistance to the arrivals, including a hot meal, water, a measles vaccination, and a place to rest.

From Yida, refugees are transported by bus to Ajuong Thok, a camp established in 2013 to help ease some of the pressure.

There, they are provided with plastic sheeting and poles to build a temporary home, as well as cooking pots and pans, mosquito nets, blankets, sleeping mats and food. Children who are unaccompanied or separated from their families are reunited with their families or placed in foster care.

With nearly 41,000 Sudanese refugees already living in Ajuong Thok, the camp has almost reached its capacity of 46,000 people. UNHCR and its partners have been expanding camp infrastructure to meet the needs of a growing population.

A new camp is underway at Pamir, some 50 kilometres south of the border, to receive new arrivals and refugees who have been living in Yida for the past five years.

As the refugee influx continues, services are becoming overstretched. In the past four weeks, available water has dropped from 19 litres per person per day to 16. Schools have become extremely overcrowded with more than 100 students sharing the same classroom.

With UNHCR’s operations in South Sudan funded at just 17 per cent, services and service quality are inevitably threatened, Edwards said. (*Source: UN).

The World Humanitarian Summit

One of the expected outcomes of the first World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), which took place will take place on May 23-24 in Istanbul, Turkey, was a commitment from the international community to dedicate more resources to prevent and reduce human suffering.

Given, however, the unparalleled extent and frequency of humanitarian emergencies in the world today, the necessity to attend to people’s most urgent needs tends to draw resources away from preventive and resilience-building actions, the United Nationsreported.**

Prioritizing humanitarian needs in a context of limited resources is a task handled regularly by Bavo Christiaens, a 40-year-old Belgian national working at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Sudan.

Christiaens, as Head of Humanitarian Financing and Resource Mobilisation, manages OCHA’s Sudan Humanitarian Fund (SHF), which oversees the allocation of funding to UN agencies as well as to national and international non-governmental organization (NGOs) in the country.

In 2015, thanks to generous donor contributions, the SHF allocated over $50 million for humanitarian action in Sudan.

“A huge advantage of being an ‘in-country fund’ like SHF, is that we can support front-line responders, those working on the ground, day in and day out, to help people in need. We are one of the few funding mechanisms to be able to support national NGOs,” Mr. Christiaens said of the pooled fund, which allocated 15 per cent of its resources in 2015 directly to NGOs.

One of the main priorities for OCHA Sudan relates to the country’s significant number of internally displaced persons (IDPs), caused by years of armed conflict, mainly in the Darfur region.

According to the Government of Sudan and the United Nations, there are currently 2.2 million IDPs in need across the country, including two million in Darfur. In addition, 4.6 million people are estimated to be food insecure in Sudan, and over 40 per cent of these are IDPs.

Internally Displaced Persons from Tui trekking to Sortony IDP camp with their belongings. March 2016. Photo: OCHA

“Thousands of people have been displaced for over a decade, but there are also new crises that force other people to flee their homes,” said Christiaens, adding that, since the beginning of the year, Sudan has witnessed significant displacement from the Jebel Marra, a mountainous region in Darfur.

“The Sudan Humanitarian Fund is currently focusing on the humanitarian needs of those people who have recently been displaced from the Jebel Marra,” explained Christiaens, who said that, in dealing with this emergency situation, SHF has had to redefine some of its geographic priorities.

The Outreach Therapeutic Program Mobile Clinic is a nutrition project dedicated to children of IDPs in the the state of Khartoum, an area that used to be considered as a humanitarian priority by SHF, but was deprioritized this year following the Jebel Marra crisis and other more urgent needs.

Morning in Sortony camp for Internally Displaced Persons, Darfur. 16 March 2016. Photo: WFP/Marc Prost

Run by the national NGO Almanar (‘Lighthouse’ in English), the clinic was founded in 2013 in Jabarona, an open area on the outskirts of the capital that has
been hosting IDPs for more than two decades.

“They started coming in the late 1980s. And they continue to come. There’s donor fatigue because the people have been there for a long time, but many keep coming every day,” said Dr. Nadia Ali Eltoum, the Executive Director of Almanar, who runs the clinic.

According to her, the Jabarona open area currently hosts 15,000 IDPs from Darfur, and South Kordofan, West Kordofan, and Blue Nile states, as well as from rural areas affected by climate change. An additional 60,000 have established themselves around the area, she said, including some 6,000 South Sudanese.

“There is very high poverty in the area. The market prices are very high. Hygiene conditions for IDPs are bad, and there are virtually no water, electricity, sanitation or health services,” described Dr. Nadia.

Weighing children at Al Manar Health Center, Mayo, South Khartoum Photo: OCHA

The Almanar mobile clinic is dedicated to Jabarona’s children under five who are suffering from malnutrition. According to the Sudanese Government and the United Nations, two million children suffer from global acute malnutrition, of which 560,000 have severe acute malnutrition.

The clinic relies on the help of volunteers from the IDP community itself, known as community health promoters, who are selected and trained by Almanar to identify malnourished children.

“These volunteers are accepted by the community. They know the traditions and the language, and can communicate easily with community members,” explained Dr. Nadia, adding that the majority of them are young women.

Each community health promoter is responsible for monitoring about 20 houses in the Jabarona open area and periodically visits them to see if children are showing any sign of malnutrition.

“If a child is malnourished, he or she is referred to Almanar by the community health promoters and treated at the clinic. If the child has other medical complications in addition to malnutrition, he or she is sent to the nearest hospital for medical support,” explained Dr. Nadia.

Measuring children at Al Manar Health Centre, Mayo, South Khartoum Photo: OCHA

According to Dr. Nadia, from April 2015 to March 2016, over 3,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition and over 7,000 children suffering from moderate acute malnutrition were treated at the clinic, which also develops preventive measures, including raising the awareness of best practices for nutrition, breast-feeding and treatment of HIV and other diseases among IDP mothers.

In its first year, the clinic was funded by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

“We wrote a proposal. We approached UNICEF. And then once we received the funds, we started treating the children,” Dr. Nadia explained.

In 2015, the clinic was mainly funded by the SHF, which considered Khartoum state to be a humanitarian priority for IDPs and refugees. But as a result of the Jebel Marra crisis this year the situation has changed.

“After this month, there is no guarantee for anything. We won’t receive any funding because Khartoum state is not a priority anymore for SHF because of new emergencies,” said Dr. Nadia. Christiaens is well aware of the difficulties that come with having to redefine the funding priorities of SHF on a yearly basis.

“SHF planning is done on an annual basis,” he explained, adding that multi-year programming would allow SHF to provide more stable support to – and invest more in ¬– early-recovery, resilience-building and durable solutions, as well as to ensure that new crises do not take away funds from longer-term responses.

One of the core aims of the upcoming WHS is to secure commitment to more resources for resilience- and capacity-building projects as a way to prevent or reduce human suffering in case of conflicts and natural disasters. The WHS will also call for increased investment in people, local actors and national systems.

Plumpy nut distribution at Al Manar Health Center, Mayo, South Khartoum Photo: OCHA

“But if you have a multi-year approach, you also need to have a more stable and better funding outlook than what we have today,” he said, adding that it would require expanding the pool of donors from which SHF’s resources are drawn. This would also allow the fund to depend less on a small number of donors.

“On the other hand, a multi-year approach would also require efforts from the humanitarian community,” he added. “If you ask donors for multiyear funding, the humanitarian community has to be more transparent on costs, methodologies and risk-based approaches,” Christiaens said.

These are global humanitarian issues that Christiaens hopes will be addressed at the World Humanitarian Summit, starting with raising awareness of the danger of letting longstanding, protracted crises, as in Jabarona, slip off donors’ agendas in the face of new emergency crises, as in Jebel Marra.

“There can be both. There should be both. But we are a bit limited resource-wise on the longer-term programming,” he said. “Everybody is dealing with finite resources, but there needs to be an understanding that the resources in general have to increase and that non-traditional donors should join new initiatives to fund responses to humanitarian crises.” (**Source: UN).

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