For the last few weeks in the al-Mayqoma orphanage in Khartoum, the tiny limbs and small corpses of children who died have been wrapped in white sheets, bundled together awaiting burial.
More than 70 children have died there since mid-April, caught in the continuing deadly conflict in Sudan. But those who have managed to survive have finally been ferried to safety outside the capital, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told Al Jazeera on Thursday.
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At least 280 children and 70 of their carers were taken from the orphanage to a new facility in Madani, about 135km (85 miles) southeast of Khartoum, arriving on Wednesday evening, said Alyona Synenko from ICRC Nairobi.
Synenko said the evacuation occurred nearly eight weeks into the conflict because it required security guarantees from the warring parties, the Sudanese army and its rival paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
“We couldn’t put the lives of the children at risk without being 100 percent sure that we have all the agreements and all the security guarantees that we need because we didn’t want to do more harm than good by jeopardising their safety and putting them at risk,” Synenko said.
The evacuation involved a large convoy of buses accompanied by ICRC cars, she said, explaining that the organisation was asked to facilitate the evacuation by the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Health.
The ministries have since taken charge of the children, while the United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, has provided humanitarian support including healthcare, food, and recreational and educational activities.
Another orphanage’s earlier evacuation
Civilians in the capital have been experiencing shortages of food, water and other basic supplies, with the orphanage no exception as Khartoum transformed into an urban battlefield since the conflict between the army and the RSF broke out on April 15.
But another orphanage, SOS Children’s Villages, managed to evacuate all of its children and staff from the capital three weeks ago, relocating them to Madani and another facility in the southern state of White Nile.
“They are very safe within the communities in [the two locations]”, the organisation’s international director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Senait Gebregziabher, told Al Jazeera.
Gebregziabher said 90 children, 30 young people, 15 carers, and all other staff were relocated, with the SOS Children’s Villages office abandoned as its surrounds were taken by the army.
The director explained that the evacuations were made in collaboration with aid groups such as the Red Crescent as well as staff using their own vehicles and money to help the children escape the war-ravaged capital.
Now they are “very safe”, said Gebregziabher, but “like any other citizen of Sudan they are facing [a] supply insecurity situation”, she added.
The crisis must remain on the ‘radar’
Supply concerns were a key factor behind the evacuation efforts at al-Mayqoma as access to specialised medical care dwindled, given that many of the children have special needs, said Synenko.
The orphanage’s evacuation was also spurred by an online campaign by local activists and international charities after news emerged last month that 26 children trapped in the facility had died there in two days.
The causes of the deaths included circulatory collapse, fever, dehydration, malnutrition and failure to thrive.
As the conflict rages, Gebregziabher stressed that the world must continue paying attention to the crisis in which more than 1,800 people have been killed and at least 1.6 million people have been displaced in less than two months.
“It has to be on [people’s] radar,” she stressed.
“The people are suffering.”