The conflict that broke out in Sudan on April 15 has killed more than 5,000 people and displaced 5.4 million. More than one million of those displaced have fled to neighboring countries, including South Sudan, which hosts more than 240,000 refugees and returnees—people who had previously fled South Sudan as refugees and are now returning as a result of the current conflict in Sudan.
Most have reached Renk in the northeast of the country, but many are also coming through two border crossing points from Darfur, Sudan, to Northern Bahr el Ghazal state in northwestern South Sudan, which borders East Darfur and Abyei states to the north.
Insecurity continues in Wedweil camp
According to UNHCR, around 9,000 people are currently living in a refugee settlement near a town called Wedweil, where MSF opened a health clinic in June as part of its emergency response. The MSF clinic is for everyone in the area: refugees, returnees, and existing residents of Wedweil included.
We also trucked over 900,000 liters (about 238,000 gallons) of water to the camp and drilled a borehole to ensure that new residents had an adequate supply of water. However, many gaps remain, including the dire sanitation and hygiene conditions in the camp. With the population expected to expand to 20,000 over the coming months, these conditions need to be urgently addressed to prevent an outbreak of disease, which could quickly spread out of control.
“The conflict in Sudan is intensifying the existing humanitarian needs in South Sudan,” explains Mamman Mustapha, MSF head of mission in South Sudan. “People in Northern Bahr El Ghazal already face a multitude of issues, including food insecurity, limited access to clean water, and limited access to health care. Recent floods and droughts have led to crops failing and animals dying, and the number of people receiving food rations in the state has been cut by 50 percent. At the same time, food prices have been going up, which has reduced people’s ability to buy what they need.”
The impact can be seen in the health of children. Over the past year, MSF has seen a drastic increase in the number of malnourished children coming to our hospital in Aweil. Between January and September 2023, 1,015 patients were admitted for treatment for severe malnutrition—a 70 percent increase compared to the same period last year.
“We are very concerned for the health and wellbeing of refugees and returnees who reach Wedweil—and they are arriving at a time when the situation is already dire," adds Mustapha. "What's more, in the Wedweil refugee settlement, people are receiving just 70 percent of the food rations that they need. This is not enough, and there is a possibility that the consequences will be seen in the coming months, when more children will likely begin to suffer from malnutrition. To prevent this from happening, far greater international support is required to provide refugees and the rest of the population in South Sudan with the essential assistance they need to survive."
Many of the refugees and returnees who have made it to Wedweil faced harrowing journeys to reach safety, witnessing the brutal killing of their friends and family, attacks and robberies by armed men, as well as many days of thirst and hunger. Now, they have a new reality to adapt to, with little food and few job opportunities. Many express that they have little hope for their future or the future of their children. Here, some of our patients share their stories.
“They took everything"
Elmoataz and Sittam are a married couple from Nyala, Sudan, who are expecting their first child. Elmoataz worked at a university in Nyala before their hometown became a battlefield. They were attacked at the market as the city became a lawless zone. “Anybody could come and kill you,” said Elmoataz. “There were no rules, no government, people were killed. They took everything.”
All in all, it took them 23 days to reach Wedweil. Now, they feel safe, but still, there is not enough food.
A dramatic change of plans
Fisal was studying to become a nurse in Khartoum when the violence started—then all her plans changed dramatically. After her husband was killed, she fled with her mother and sister, witnessing heavy fighting on the way. When men attempted to rape her sister, she was shot while trying to escape. Fisal and her mother continued to Wedweil, where they finally feel safe, but Fisal feels there is no chance for a job or a future.
A month-long journey
Musa and Alima are a couple from Nyala in South Darfur, Sudan with four children. Back in Nyala, Musa used to work in a restaurant. When the violence in Sudan erupted, Alima was shot by armed men. All their property was taken ,so on June 18, they decided to flee. On their way to Wedweil, the couple slept on roadsides or in the forests, collecting rainwater to drink and with little food.
During their dangerous journey, they were also attacked and beaten. When they finally reached the border, they were given food, shelter, financial support, and water from NGOs. In total, it took them a month to reach Wedweil. In the camp, they say that they finally feel safe, but that they still face many problems: There is not enough food, there is no chance of work, and there is no school for their children. They feel they are heading toward a very insecure future.
"If they didn't find money, they killed people in their homes."
Hamad came to Wedweil with his children. His wife recently passed away, and his son just tested positive for malaria. They traveled for 12 days from Nyala to Wedweil and arrived on June 28. “The rebels were looting the houses and taking everything they could find. If they didn't find money, they killed people in their homes. That is why I fled with my family,” he said.
No future without education
Ahmed and Leymona are from El Geneina in West Darfur, Sudan. They are married and have five children. In their hometown, Ahmed was a businessman and sold clothes until then the violence erupted and the fighting came very close to their home. The child of a neighbor was shot in the head and many other people were killed—even some of their relatives—so they decided to flee for their lives with their children.
On the way, they slept by the side of the road and were attacked by armed groups. When they finally reached the border, they were provided with food and water, but there was no medical support. It took them a month to reach Wedweil and although they received water, food, and medical assistance there, their children cannot go to school. This is a big problem for the family because they fear that there will be no future for their children without a proper education.