Crisis at border of South Sudan and Sudan escalating as about 1,000 people arrive daily even after nearly one year of war

Wednesday 27 March 2024

Refugees and returnees from Sudan boarding trucks at Joda border point in Renk County, South Sudan -  CH11013438

RENK, South Sudan, 27 March 2024 – About 1,000 people a day are fleeing into South Sudan from Sudan after nearly one year of war, arriving in scorching heat and with children in dire need of support, Save the Children said.

More than 600,000 people – both refugees and returnees – have crossed the border since last April, arriving into a region already facing a severe hunger crisis, and the numbers continue to rise as the hostilities show no sign of abating. Most people arrive with nothing, having lost their homes and livelihoods. Some children have reported seeing loved ones, including their parents, killed on route.

The majority have arrived at the border crossing of Joda in Upper Nile State by foot or on donkey carts, from where up to 200 people at a time are crammed into trucks with standing room only. They are taken to two overcrowded transit centres in nearby Renk, a two-hour journey on dirt tracks in temperatures of up to 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) as South Sudan battles its worst heatwave in four years.

They usually spend about two weeks in the centres – which houses over 15,000 people, even though they were built for no more than 3,000 – where food and water are scarce, healthcare is limited, and many sleep outside in makeshift shelters. From there 500 people at a time are packed onto barges for a two-day journey along the Nile to head to other destinations in South Sudan or packed into trucks for a 12 hour road trip to a refugee camp in Maban.

Most of these families have been displaced before. Many fled to Sudan from South Sudan in 2013 when widespread intercommunal violence erupted just two years after the country celebrated its independence as the world’s newest nation. Despite a peace deal in South Sudan in 2018, the country is still facing one of the world’s most severe humanitarian crises, plagued by continuing violence, repeated climate disasters, widespread hunger, mass displacement and now soaring prices. Even before the war in Sudan, about 9 million people – about 75% of the population ­– including nearly 5 million children were in need of humanitarian assistance.

For people fleeing the conflict in Sudan, however, life in South Sudan is a better option. About 1.75 million people have left Sudan, according to latest UNHCR data, headed to South Sudan, Ethiopia, Chad, Central African Republic and Egypt.

Amira*, 37, a South Sudanese citizen, crossed the border into South Sudan with her husband and two young children in early March before being taken to one of the transit centres in Renk. She was working at a hospital in Khartoum  as a surgical nurse when the fighting started and was trapped in the basement for three days before she could get home.

“We have lost everything. We left everything behind,” she said. “My husband and I both had good jobs and my son was happy at school but that changed overnight. When the fighting began, we had no choice but to leave. Our lives in Khartoum were destroyed. So much has changed in a year, but now we both just want to get jobs and be settled again, so our children can go to school.”

For children in Renk’s transit centres, Save the Children has opened Child Friendly Spaces, where they can play, paint, dance, learn and receive psychosocial support.

Margret, 25, hails from South Sudan and is one of Save the Children’s team working with children in the centres. She fled to Sudan during South Sudan’s conflict and was forced to flee again when armed clashes broke out in Khartoum last April. It took Margret five days to reach Renk. She was robbed of the few possessions she’d managed to take with her.

“They took my laptop and my phone. Life is very difficult there. They killed my friend,” she said. “I feel better here. I get to play with the children – they make me smile again.”

Since the escalation of violence in Sudan, Save the Children has expanded its operations in Renk to assist families. Staff members are on location from the border to the boats to keep children and families safe, help them on and off the trucks, see to their immediate needs and emotional welfare, as well as reunite unaccompanied children with their families.

Pornpun Rabiltossaporn, Save the Children’s Country Director in South Sudan, said the needs were so much greater than the support currently available. She said:

“We want to ensure that the children arriving here are protected, get the psychosocial support they need, and that unaccompanied girls and boys are reunited with their families as quickly as possible. But so much more needs to be done.”

Save the Children’s CEO Inger Ashing visited Renk this month to draw attention to the escalating crisis and call for urgent funding with needs overwhelming. A UN funding appeal for US$1.8 billion for South Sudan is only 18% funded so far. She said:

“This is one of the world’s most overlooked crises and it is getting worse by the day. I heard so many heartbreaking stories from children. Some saw their parents killed. Others were separated from their families. Many told me they just wanted some normalcy and to go back to school.

“It is devastating to think that this journey is not the end of their ordeal but just the start with many not knowing where they are going and with no resources at all. Most displaced people on average spend seven years on the move. That is half a child’s time in education.

“No child should wake up fearing for their safety, worried about when they will next eat, and not knowing where they will sleep that night. No child should be without an education. The international community needs to step up to commit the funding and resources needed before it’s too late.”

Save the Children has worked in South Sudan since 1991. The child rights organisation provides children with access to education, healthcare and nutritional support, and families with food security and livelihoods assistance. In 2023, the organisation’s programmes reached over  1.9 million people including 1.1  million children and this year Save the Children hopes to reach 1.4 million people in South Sudan.

* Name anonymised to protect identity


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