Fighting in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, quickly spread to the country’s Darfur region, displacing tens of thousands of people across the border to Chad.
By Lalla Sy and Moulid Hujale in Chad | 24 May 2023
Haweya and her family were sleeping at their home in Tendalti in Sudan’s western Darfur region when armed men entered the house.
“A bullet hit my husband … My child took a stray bullet at the same time, and I was tortured, because I refused to denounce [my husband],” said Haweya.
“They hit me with a stick and until now my left ear doesn’t work so I can’t hear well.”
Haweya’s husband died from his wounds, and she fled on foot towards the border with Chad with her injured son on her back.
“I had to leave the rest of my children there, other people brought them here because I couldn’t stay … We left everything behind.”
Haweya and her four children are among more than 90,000 Sudanese refugees who have fled to neighbouring Chad since fighting between rival military factions that started in Khartoum a month ago engulfed large parts of the country.
Ethnic tensions rekindled
Western Darfur has been particularly affected by the conflict which has re-ignited existing ethnic and intercommunal tensions. Heavy civilian casualties have been reported there as well as looting and burning of public and humanitarian facilities, including camps for internally displaced people.
“In Tendalti, you have different ethnic communities, and they fear being attacked,” explained Brice Degla, a senior emergency coordinator with the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, in Chad. “Even on the [Chadian] side of the border, they continue to feel insecure because they know that the town is not that far from here.”
The refugees are contributing to what was already a dire humanitarian crisis in Chad, a landlocked country struggling with widespread food insecurity, the effects of climate change and inter-communal conflict. According to the UN, 6.9 million people – more than a third of the Chadian population – need humanitarian assistance. Meanwhile, even before the current influx, the country was hosting more than a million forcibly displaced people, including 400,000 Sudanese refugees in the east.
As more refugees fleeing the violence in Sudan cross into Chad every day, 90 per cent of them women and children, many have no choice but to stay out in the open or under trees, while others are sleeping in makeshift shelters close to the border.
“I need food, I need clothes and I also need shelter,” said Haweya. “I have nothing to put over my head. I plan to go and look for straw. If I find some in the bush, I will make a shelter.”
Local Chadians take in new arrivals
UNHCR is working with the Government of Chad and partners to register the new arrivals and provide them with life-saving assistance it has air-lifted to eastern Chad including sleeping mats, mosquito nets, soap, and cooking utensils. UNHCR is also providing protection services such as preventing and responding to gender-based violence, identifying at risk children, and providing assistance to people with specific needs.
Local Chadians like Fatna Hamid have also opened their doors to Sudanese refugees despite their own difficult living conditions. The 44-year-old mother of five said she had hosted about 50 people in her home in Koufroune village in recent weeks.
“I feel emotional when I see them.”
“I am happy to host these people who are in a precarious situation,” she said. “Many have children or came with sicknesses, and they can’t build a shelter. That’s why they come to my house.”
As a single mother herself, Fatna said she could relate to the plight of mothers fleeing alone with their children. She also knows some of those arriving as she trades with communities on the border.
“I feel emotional when I see them. We know each other because we are traders. Sometimes we go to Sudan to buy merchandise, so they know my house here,” she said.
Fatime Mahmoud Adoum, 30, and her husband and five children are among the Sudanese refugees staying with Fatna.
“She’s always looking for something to feed us,” she said. “But being a guest for longer than a week or two is too much. We must start thinking of leaving this house.”
In addition to providing emergency assistance, UNHCR and the government have started relocating refugees to an existing refugee camp, about 50 kilometers away from the border, ahead of the upcoming rainy season.
“If we fail to act now it will be too late.”
“If we fail to act now it will be too late,” said Degla. “The rainy season is coming in a few weeks and if we don’t provide any assistance, the roads will be blocked, and all the refugees here will be stuck.”
After losing friends and family to the violence back in Darfur, and seeing homes burned to the ground, Fatime has no hope of returning to Sudan any time soon.
“The conflict is not finished, there is no reconciliation and people are scared to return home,” she said. “I ask God to bring understanding among people so that those who want to go home can do so in the future.”