Families separated while fleeing escalating hostilities in Sudan

4 May 2023

Families are being separated by private contractors offering transport out of Sudan, Plan International has been told, raising concerns about the safety of children and girls as conflict in Sudan escalates.

As the conflict in Sudan enters its third week, a growing number of refugees, returnees and third country nationals continue to cross into neighbouring countries – South Sudan, Egypt and Chad – with families using buses and trucks and paying hefty fees to flee the violence in their country.

Plan International is concerned that the high cost will increase risks of exploitation and abuse of children, girls, and women.

“The majority of people arriving in South Sudan are women and children, some of whom are reporting that private contractors offering transport are separating them from their families,” says Francis Oppong, Director of Programmes Plan International South Sudan.

“In South Sudan, we have close to 30,000 refugees who have arrived from Sudan. 54% of whom are women. With the current humanitarian crisis that means about 9.4 million people are already in need of food, we are concerned that the influx of new refugees may destabilise further already struggling communities.”

“We have heard reports that families are congregating at the Sudan border into Egypt with several thousand people of all ages waiting to cross the border,” adds Dennis O’Brien, Country Director, Plan International Egypt. “People report paying between $600 and $1,000 to travel from Khartoum to the border.”

Children face daily challenge for survival

Those that can afford this hefty payment out of Sudan, unfortunately, are not guaranteed of safety and security with Plan International warning of a rapidly deteriorating situation for children and families now facing a daily challenge for survival.

“Through this conflict, humanitarian needs are multiplying by the hour. People who have been forced to flee have left with whatever they can carry – they urgently need shelter, protection, blankets, food, water and medical assistance, and emotional care and support,” says Roger Yates, Regional Director Middle East, Eastern and Southern Africa.

As of 28 April, the most significant cross border movements have been Sudanese refugees arriving in Chad and Egypt, and South Sudanese returning to South Sudan. Sudanese refugees have also arrived in the Central African Republic (CAR).

“Over 20,000 Sudanese refugees have been crossing the border into Chad. Currently, we have 14 refugee camps along the border, most hosting previous refugees. Our immediate concerns include water and sanitation as well as protection for women and girls,” adds Christine Karumba, Plan International Country Director Chad.

“We are getting ready to respond as we expect an influx of around 100,000 more refugees in a context where about 51% of the population already require humanitarian assistance.”

Calling for an immediate stop to hostilities

For those families still in Sudan, unable to escape from the conflict, there have been severe challenges providing humanitarian support as fighting escalates. Plan International has joined calls for an immediate and permanent cessation of hostilities.

We are also urging all parties to the conflict to respect International Humanitarian Law, including the protection of civilians and the safety of humanitarian aid workers. Humanitarian organisations must be allowed to access populations in need and attacks against them are completely unacceptable.

“In some of our programme areas including in Northern Kordofan and Darfur States, we have internally displaced families who are staying in schools. Plan International has been supporting these families with food and other critical supplies,” says Widaa Mohamed, Plan International’s Programme Area Manager in Kordofan, Sudan.

 “Our biggest challenge however is that we have no cash in hand since our bank systems are not working making it difficult to respond further. We are also experiencing fuel shortages.”

Plan International has also been calling for humanitarian medical and other supplies stuck at the Port of Sudan to be promptly released without bureaucratic impediments, and for the facilitation of other access points to the country.

Millions of children are witnessing the horror of this conflict. The violence will take a heavy toll on the mental health of children, young people and their caregivers.

The protection and safety of children on the move must be a top priority. Plan International is particularly concerned about the protection and safety of separated or unaccompanied children, especially girls and young women, who are more vulnerable to abuse and trafficking.