Sudan’s War Began a Year Ago. Children Are among Its Most Fragile Survivors

Children walk at the school housing displaced Sudanese who fled violence in war-torn Sudan, near the eastern city of Gedaref, on March 10, 2024. (AFP)
Children walk at the school housing displaced Sudanese who fled violence in war-torn Sudan, near the eastern city of Gedaref, on March 10, 2024. (AFP)
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Sudan’s War Began a Year Ago. Children Are among Its Most Fragile Survivors

Children walk at the school housing displaced Sudanese who fled violence in war-torn Sudan, near the eastern city of Gedaref, on March 10, 2024. (AFP)
Children walk at the school housing displaced Sudanese who fled violence in war-torn Sudan, near the eastern city of Gedaref, on March 10, 2024. (AFP)

The war in Sudan began a year ago. Here in a remote camp for tens of thousands of people who have fled into neighboring Chad, the anniversary is marked by near starvation.

Assadig Abubaker Salih is a 42-year-old mother of six. The family survived the hot, dusty journey from their home to this sprawling camp of wind-whipped blue tents stretching in rows toward the horizon.

“We are in a very bad situation. We have suffered since we left our country. My husband died," she said. “There is nothing here. We need the essentials. We don’t even have sugar.”

Back home, Sudan's military, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, is fighting the paramilitary group known as Rapid Support Forces, commanded by Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, for greater resources. Sudan is home to around 45 million people.

Close to 9 million people have fled their homes, according to the United Nations, and more than 1 million have left the country. Thousands have been killed in a conflict overshadowed by the ones in Gaza and Ukraine. The UN says it has asked for $2.7 billion in funding to respond to humanitarian needs but has received $155 million — or 6%.

“It has been everyday Sudanese who have — often at great personal risk —stepped up to support each other,” Eatizaz Yousif, country director with the International Rescue Committee, said in a joint statement by aid groups urging the world to give more.

The UN has warned of an impending generational catastrophe. An estimated 3 million Sudanese children are malnourished. About 19 million children are out of school. A quarter of Sudan's hospitals are no longer functioning.

Aid organizations say women and children are bearing the worst of the conflict.

Even here, across the border, resources are stretched thin after more than 570,000 Sudanese arrived over the past year. Aid workers warn they are set to run out of some supplies within weeks. Shortages of water and ways to keep clean mean a growing risk of disease.

A growing number of children are arriving at the pediatric unit run by the Doctors Without Borders charity with pulmonary complications, a result of the harsh environment. The organization has also documented rising cases of hepatitis E, which can be deadly for pregnant women.

"Many, many of our babies are severely malnourished,” said Cordula Haffner, the Doctors Without Borders hospital coordinator at the camp. “The reason is hygiene, not enough food, not enough water. This is a crisis that will continue. We will see even more children like this.”

More than 16,000 children younger than 5 arriving in Chad from Sudan have had severe acute malnutrition, according to the UN — a stage where the effects of hunger are clearly visible.

Many people in this camp fled some of the conflict’s worst fighting in Sudan’s vast western region of Darfur. But the most desperate are trapped behind the front lines.

“We are seeing a catastrophe unfolding in North Darfur, where our teams have estimated that 13 children are dying each day of malnutrition and related health conditions at a camp for displaced people,” Avril Benoît, executive director of Doctors Without Borders in the US, said in a statement. She urged Sudanese authorities to stop blocking aid.

Some Sudanese manage to get help in time. One mother of six, Rachid Yaya Mohammed, said she came to the hospital at this camp in Chad because she is six months pregnant.

Two of her smallest children — twins — slept beside her.

Conditions are expected to worsen in the coming lean season between harvests, when food reserves are depleted and rains drive up rates of malaria.

Sudan plunged into chaos a year ago when clashes erupted in the capital, Khartoum, and spread.



Syrians in Lebanon Fear Unprecedented Restrictions, Deportations 

A Syrian refugee boy runs at an informal tented settlement in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon May 23, 2024. (Reuters)
A Syrian refugee boy runs at an informal tented settlement in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon May 23, 2024. (Reuters)
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Syrians in Lebanon Fear Unprecedented Restrictions, Deportations 

A Syrian refugee boy runs at an informal tented settlement in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon May 23, 2024. (Reuters)
A Syrian refugee boy runs at an informal tented settlement in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon May 23, 2024. (Reuters)

The soldiers came before daybreak, singling out the Syrian men without residence permits from the tattered camp in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. As toddlers wailed around them, Mona, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon for a decade, watched Lebanese troops shuffle her brother onto a truck headed for the Syrian border.

Thirteen years since Syria's conflict broke out, Lebanon remains home to the largest refugee population per capita in the world: roughly 1.5 million Syrians - half of whom are refugees formally registered with the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR - in a country of approximately 4 million Lebanese.

They are among some five million Syrian refugees who spilled out of Syria into neighboring countries, while millions more are displaced within Syria. Donor countries in Brussels this week pledged fewer funds in Syria aid than last year.

With Lebanon struggling to cope with an economic meltdown that has crushed livelihoods and most public services, its chronically underfunded security forces and typically divided politicians now agree on one thing: Syrians must be sent home.

Employers have been urged to stop hiring Syrians for menial jobs. Municipalities have issued new curfews and have even evicted Syrian tenants, two humanitarian sources told Reuters. At least one township in northern Lebanon has shuttered an informal camp, sending Syrians scattering, the sources said.

Lebanese security forces issued a new directive this month shrinking the number of categories through which Syrians can apply for residency - frightening many who would no longer qualify for legal status and now face possible deportation.

Lebanon has organized voluntary returns for Syrians, through which 300 travelled home in May. But more than 400 have also been summarily deported by the Lebanese army, two humanitarian sources told Reuters, caught in camp raids or at checkpoints set up to identify Syrians without legal residency.

They are automatically driven across the border, refugees and humanitarian workers say, fueling concerns about rights violations, forced military conscription or arbitrary detention.

Mona, who asked to change her name in fear of Lebanese authorities, said her brother was told to register with Syria's army reserves upon his entry. Fearing a similar fate, the rest of the camp's men no longer venture out.

"None of the men can pick up their kids from school, or go to the market to get things for the house. They can't go to any government institutions, or hospital, or court," Mona said.

She must now care for her brother's children, who were not deported, through an informal job she has at a nearby factory. She works at night to evade checkpoints along her commute.

A sign that reads "The return of the displaced is a right and a duty", is placed along a highway in Jounieh, Lebanon May 23, 2024. (Reuters)

'WRONG & NOT SUSTAINABLE'

Lebanon has deported refugees in the past, and political parties have long insisted parts of Syria are safe enough for large-scale refugee returns.

But in April, the killing of a local Lebanese party official blamed on Syrians touched off a concentrated campaign of anti-refugee sentiment.

Hate speech flourished online, with more than 50% of the online conversation about refugees in Lebanon focused on deporting them and another 20% referring to Syrians as an "existential threat," said Lebanese research firm InflueAnswers.

The tensions have extended to international institutions. Lebanon's foreign minister has pressured UNHCR's representative to rescind a request to halt the new restrictions and lawmakers slammed a one billion euro aid package from the European Union as a "bribe" to keep hosting refugees.

"This money that the EU is sending to the Syrians, let them send it to Syria," said Roy Hadchiti, a media representative for the Free Patriotic Movement, speaking at an anti-refugee rally organized by the conservative Christian party.

He, like a growing number of Lebanese, complained that Syrian refugees received more aid than desperate Lebanese. "Go see them in the camps - they have solar panels, while Lebanese can't even afford a private generator subscription," he said.

The UN still considers Syria unsafe for large-scale returns and said rising anti-refugee rhetoric is alarming.

"I am very concerned because it can result in... forced returns, which are both wrong and not sustainable," UNHCR head Filippo Grandi told Reuters.

"I understand the frustrations in host countries - but please don't fuel it further."

Zeina, a Syrian refugee who also asked her name be changed, said her husband's deportation last month left her with no work or legal status in an increasingly hostile Lebanese town.

Returning has its own dangers: her children were born in Lebanon and do not have Syrian ID cards, and her home in Homs province remains in ruins since a 2012 government strike that forced her to flee.

"Even now, when I think of those days, and I think of my parents or anyone else going back, they can't. The house is flattened. What kind of return is that?" she said.