Sudan civil war reaches safe haven, imperiling 3 million children

December 21, 2023
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Sudan’s raging civil war threatens the lives of almost 3 million children, the United Nations Children’s Fund said Thursday, as fighting imperils what had become a safe haven for hundreds of thousands of displaced people.

Fighting in the huge northeastern African nation has now reached Jazeera state, the country’s breadbasket with a population of 5.9 million people — half of whom are children, UNICEF said.

“This new wave of violence could leave children and families trapped between fighting lines or caught in the crossfire, with fatal consequences,” the organization’s executive director, Catherine Russell, said in a statement on Thursday.

The latest bout of violence broke on April 15, as Sudan’s military and a powerful paramilitary force vied for power. Since then, heavy fighting has left hundreds of thousands of people facing the agonizing decision of whether to flee their homes homes or stay and risk injury or death in the violence. Cease-fires have failed to halt the struggle for power and fueled the growing humanitarian crisis.

Civilians are often caught up in the crossfire as neighborhoods are divided between the armed forces, led by Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo.

Sudanese President, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and his former deputy, Vice President Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
Sudanese President, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and his former deputy, Vice President Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.Getty; AFP

Some 9,000 people have been killed in the violence, according to the U.N., but local doctors groups and activists say the death toll is likely far higher.

Almost 300,000 people have fled the Jazeera state, moving to the nearby Sennar state, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Dagalo announced the RSF had taken control of the state’s capital Wad Medani, which is about 60 miles southeast of Khartoum.

NBC News has not independently verified the claim.

Wad Medani has served as a key hub for many humanitarian operations operating in the country as it was largely removed from the frontlines.

Paramilitary forces established a base on December 17 in the formerly safe city of Wad Madani in war-torn Sudan.
People queue for bread in front of a bakery in Wad Madani on Dec. 17, 2023AFP – Getty Images

It also hosts the only kidney dialysis center in the state, according to UNICEF, with hundreds of vulnerable children who had been evacuated from other parts of the country.

“Attacks on or disruption of these services would immediately endanger the lives of thousands of people, including children,” UNICEF added.

The United Nations World Food Programme has already been forced to suspend food assistance in parts of the state, it said in a statement Wednesday, calling it a “major setback to humanitarian efforts in the country’s breadbasket.”

“A place of refuge has now become a battleground in a war that has already taken a horrific toll on civilians,” said Eddie Rowe, WFP Representative and Country Director in Sudan.

Even prior to this latest escalation, 3 million children had already been forced to flee their homes across Sudan, UNICEF said, with hundreds of thousands of makeshift camps in neighboring countries.

Fighting between the Sudanese army and paramilitaries engulfed the aid hub of Wad Madani on December 15, triggering an exodus of civilians already displaced by eight months of war, an AFP correspondent reported.
People displaced by the conflict in Sudan, flee Wad Madani, the capital of al-Jazirah state, heading to Gadaref state on Dec. 16, 2023. AFP – Getty Images

“This makes Sudan the largest child displacement crisis in the world,” it said.

Women and children had undertaken already perilous journey to reach Wad Medani, which before the conflict was home to several thousand people.

But that too is at risk now.

“Now, even that fragile sense of security is shattered as those same children have once again been forced from their homes,” Russell said.





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