Scorching summer traps people of Sudan between conflict and deadly heat

LONDON: Desperate to escape the violence raging in Sudan, thousands of people are making the perilous journey to neighboring states. But on the way, many face another danger – deadly heat.

Dozens of people trying to illegally cross the border into Egypt have died due to the intense summer heat. Earlier this month, temperatures in the southern Egyptian governorate of Aswan reached a record 49.6 degrees Celsius in the shade.

The Platform for Refugees, an independent Egyptian rights group, said on June 17 that locals in Aswan found vehicles full of the bodies of migrants who had died on remote desert roads.


About 500,000 people from Sudan have fled to Egypt alone since the beginning of the conflict. (AFP)

It says 51 people died, probably en route to Egypt, from dehydration, heatstroke or traffic accidents compounded by inadequate medical care. Survivors hospitalized in Aswan informed the Platform for Refugees that the number of missing migrants exceeds the number of those found.

Many families reported their loved ones missing. “My aunt lost contact with her 34-year-old son for two weeks earlier this month, only to learn later from a friend who made it to Egypt that he had died of heatstroke before they crossed the border,” said Manal from the UK. a resident Sudanese nurse whose name has been changed to protect her anonymity.

She told Arab News that her cousin, who was evicted from his home in the capital Khartoum, had previously sent his mother, wife and their five-year-old son to Egypt when Sudanese women and minors were visa-free.

The conflict between the Sudanese armed forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Force, which broke out on April 15 last year, has displaced 9.1 million people, with 2.1 million fleeing abroad, according to UN figures.

According to the International Organization for Migration, some 500,000 people have fled Sudan to Egypt alone since the beginning of the conflict.

This year’s Global Peace Index, compiled by the Sydney-based Institute for Economics and Peace, ranked Sudan as the second least peaceful country in the world, behind only Yemen.

Before its descent into horror, Sudan was Africa’s second largest host of refugees, hosting more than 1 million refugees from Syria, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Eritrea, the Central African Republic, Chad and Yemen.

Today, Sudanese refugees form the largest exile community in Egypt, with more than 300,000 registered with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in the neighboring country.


Many families reported their loved ones missing. (AFP)

WFP communications officer Alessandro Abbonizio, based in Nairobi, described the refugee crisis in Sudan as “the biggest displacement crisis in the world”, with hundreds of thousands of Sudanese people also fleeing to other neighboring countries, including Chad and South Sudan.

He said that while WFP had “mobilised massive responses” in neighboring countries to support families fleeing Sudan, many of those countries were already struggling with “high levels of food insecurity”.

“The arrival of Sudanese refugees in these countries is stretching WFP’s already underfunded refugee and humanitarian operations across the region,” he told Arab News. “In South Sudan, the WFP has already had to cut humanitarian aid and vulnerable families are only receiving half the benefits.”

An estimated 7.1 million people in South Sudan are already facing acute food insecurity or worse, with the number facing hunger and death almost doubling between April and July 2024 compared to the same period last year, according to the United Nations.

Abbonizio pointed out that thousands of people from Sudan continue to cross the border into South Sudan every week, adding that “families come with stories of long journeys with little food or water, citing violence and lack of food as the main reasons they left. Sudan.”

South Sudan has also been experiencing extreme heat since March, when authorities ordered the closure of schools across the country. The country, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011, is highly exposed to climate events such as droughts, floods and rising temperatures, which have led to further displacement, food insecurity and religious and ethnic unrest.

In Chad, “indiscriminate funding has forced WFP to operate every month, failing to meet the needs of refugees (including those from Sudan) and crisis-affected host communities,” Abbonizio said.

Without preventive measures, worsening climate conditions spell doom for the region, putting millions of people at greater risk of food insecurity and, consequently, malnutrition.


Long waiting times and a lack of basic amenities at the Sudan-Egypt border are forcing an increasing number of people in Sudan to travel illegally to Egypt. (AFP)

A report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization warned that extreme climate events “could have major consequences for several hotspots, including the risk of flooding in parts of South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Haiti, Chad, Mali and Nigeria, as well as Sudan”.

The Hunger Hotspots report, released on June 5, highlighted that “Mali, Palestine, South Sudan and Sudan remain at the highest level of alert and require urgent attention.”

WFP’s Abbonizio warned that with the arrival of the rainy season in the coming weeks, access to parts of eastern Chad could be cut off, potentially exacerbating the region’s food insecurity crisis.

Noting that 3.4 million people in Chad are expected to face acute food insecurity during the current lean season from June to August, he said: “This year is becoming a race against time as the rainy season is expected to begin in the coming weeks and could cut off access to parts of eastern Chad.”

INNUMBERS

• More than 700,000 refugees and returnees who have fled Sudan to South Sudan since April 2023.

• More than 900,000 people are expected to flee Sudan to Chad by 2024.

• More than 300,000 Sudanese refugees registered with UNHCR in Egypt.

Abbonizio called for urgent funding “to prepare food supplies for its refugee response before the rains start”, adding that “WFP is also supporting hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia, Uganda and Egypt with food, cash and nutrition. .”

Meanwhile, long waiting times and a lack of basic amenities at the Sudan-Egypt border are forcing an increasing number of people in Sudan to travel illegally to Egypt in the hope of finding refuge.


The conflict displaced 9.1 million people, with 2.1 million fleeing abroad. (AFP)

“Some bodies arrived with their skin peeled off and suffering from dehydration,” a source at Aswan Hospital told Mada Masr News.

Those who survived the ordeal said that “dozens of people in the desert have no water” and “whole families died and were left there because of the high temperatures.”

The exact number of people who died in the process is difficult to ascertain. The refugee platform said 40 people, including children, women and entire families, had lost their lives between June 7 and June 9. The number is expected to rise as more bodies are discovered.

In June last year, Cairo announced that all Sudanese must have valid visas before entering Egypt, overturning a law that only required Sudanese men between the ages of 16 and 50 to have a visa.

As Egypt further tightens entry and stay requirements, at least 120,000 people without travel documents remain in limbo on the Sudanese side of the border, AFP news agency reports.

Since September, Egyptian authorities have also been arresting Sudanese refugees “based on their migration status.” A spokesman for Egypt’s foreign ministry told Reuters the decision was taken after authorities uncovered “illegal activities” including visa forgery.


Cairo announced that all Sudanese must have valid visas before entering Egypt. (AFP)

In March, Sudanese Radio Dabanga cited a thriving trade in fake Egyptian visas at the Argeen border crossing between the two countries.

In a condolence message to the families of those who died trying to reach Egypt, Abdelgadir Abdallah, Sudan’s consul general in Aswan, warned of the dangers of using illegal means to enter Egypt. “Avoid using this method. Some areas in Sudan are safe; stay there,” he said.

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