UN refugee agency warns more than 800,000 may flee Sudan

A man walks while smoke rises above buildings after aerial bombardment in Khartoum North, Sudan, May 1, 2023.
Air raids hit the northern part of the capital Khartoum despite numerous ceasefire attempts [Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters]

More than 800,000 people may flee Sudan as a result of the ongoing conflict, the United Nations refugee agency has said, including Sudanese nationals and thousands of existing refugees living temporarily in the country.

“In consultation with all concerned governments and partners, we’ve arrived at a planning figure of 815,000 people that may flee into the seven neighbouring countries,” Raouf Mazou, UNHCR assistant high commissioner for refugees, told a member-state briefing in Geneva, Switzerland.

Some 73,000 have already left Sudan, he added.

Mazou’s estimate includes approximately 580,000 Sudanese, while the others are refugees who had settled in the country for safety.

UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi later said the planning figure was indicative. “We hope it doesn’t come to that, but if violence doesn’t stop we will see more people forced to flee Sudan seeking safety,” he said in a tweet.

The international body has said a catastrophic humanitarian situation has already been unfolding since the fighting that erupted on April 15.

Hundreds have been killed and thousands wounded in the clashes between Sudan’s army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who commands the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

Millions of Sudanese, unable to afford the inflated prices required to escape the battles, have sheltered in their homes with dwindling food and water and frequent power cuts.

The UN and other aid organisations have cut services, though the World Food Programme said it was resuming operations in more secure areas on Monday after staff were killed early in the war.

“It is expected that, over the following days, these operations would extend to El-Gadarif, Gezira, Kassala, and the Blue Nile,” Al Jazeera’s Biesan Abu-Kwaik said, reporting from UN headquarters.

United Nations aid chief Martin Griffiths warned the country was at “breaking point” and that the international body fears the war’s effect both on Sudan and the broader region.

“The scale and speed of what is unfolding in Sudan is unprecedented,” he said. Griffiths is scheduled to visit Sudan on Tuesday.

Al Jazeera’s Fadel Abdelrazzaq, reporting from Adré at the Chadian-Sudanese border, said that between 10,000-20,000 Sudanese refugees arrived in Chad since the beginning of the conflict, according to Chadian authorities and UNHCR.

Jame’ Noor, reporting from near Djibouti airport, said evacuation operations were under way. “In the past few days, there were a lot of Canadian nationals coming through. Most of those evacuated were Sudanese with dual citizenship. They flew from Djibouti to Kenya and then to Canada,” he said.

Ethiopian authorities officially announced the arrival of 6,000 people from 46 nationalities via the Gallabat-Metemma border.

Attacks intensifying

Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan, reporting from Khartoum, said air raids on Monday hit the northern and eastern parts of the capital Khartoum despite numerous ceasefire attempts.

“In the early hours of the afternoon, around 12 local time [10 GMT], air strikes were launched by the Sudanese army around what residents say are RSF positions including a fuel tanker,” Morgan said.

Heavy artillery was used in proximity to the presidential palace, which is under the control of the RSF.

“The Sudanese army wants to regain control of the palace because it is near the general command of the army headquarters,” the correspondent said.

Morgan added the fighting had caused a fire to break out in one of the buildings near the palace.

Al Jazeera’s Haitham Uweit said that fighting also extended to new areas, including Al-Jerif East in the eastern part of the Blue Nile to the east of Khartoum.

“The most violent confrontations were in Khartoum Bahri, specifically in Al-Halfaya, Shambat, North Kafouri, and the industrial area,” he said.

Uweit added that according to UN envoy to Sudan Volker Perthes, the two warring sides have agreed to send representatives for UN negotiations.

“No definite information is available on the when and where of the negotiations,” Uweit said.

According to the Sudan Doctors Syndicate, 436 civilians are dead so far, and 2,175 have been injured.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies