As fighting continues, talks of a ceasefire in Sudan prove to be uncertain. Since mid April 2023, a power struggle between the country’s military led by Sudan’s effective president, General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary unit under the leadership of General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, has resulted in hundreds of deaths and left over 4000 injured.
Sudan is a country in North-Eastern Africa with a population of over 49 million people. Its official languages are Arabic and English, and the majority of the population is Sunni Muslim. Al-Burhan has been in de facto control of the country since the former leader Omar al-Bashir was removed following national protests in 2019.
Other than the toll on human life, the fighting has caused significant infrastructural damage that threatens to exacerbate the suffering. According to a Tweet from the WHO, 61% of health care facilities are closed in Sudan’s capital Khartoum, while 16% are operating as normal. This comes at a time when Sudan was already facing significant shortages of qualified staff and essential services due to a continuous lack of funding. To make matters worse, concerns for biological hazards have emerged after a lab was seized containing measles and cholera samples. It is not known which side was responsible for the incident.
Refugees have begun to flee to neighbouring countries, the bulk of which (20,000 people), the UNGCR notes, have fled to Chad. This comes at a time when Sudan is already dealing with years of refugee crises. As a result of civil war, ongoing conflict in Darfur, and rebel fighting near the border with South Sudan, over 3 million people have been internally displaced within the country. On top of this, Sudan also hosts scores of refugees from nearby countries including Eritrea, Syria, Ethiopia, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan, totalling over 1.3 million people. Because of the fighting, not only will Sudanese refugees be seeking safety, but many of this existing refugee population will be required to move as well. However, the UNHCR reports that all of their operations in countries surrounding Sudan are already dealing with high volumes of people and are currently underfunded, leading to questions about where the affected people will go. On the other hand, those unable to flee the country will be left to deal with increasingly dire humanitarian conditions, including those already displaced internally.
In response to the outbreak of the conflict, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an immediate ceasefire and dialogue between both sides. An initial three-day ceasefire ended on April 27th, although intense diplomatic pressure led to a three-day extension. The effectiveness of this move has been questioned, however, due to reports of continuing fighting throughout the ceasefire period. Diplomatic efforts have been widespread. Western nations such as the US and the UK have been actively involved, using these periods to help their citizens leave the country, while neighbouring African nations have also worked to address the conflict. Despite this involvement, it remains to be seen what action is going to be undertaken to support the people on the ground in Sudan. Ceasefires may have resulted in the evacuation of diplomatic personnel and refugees, but with the previous strain of ongoing refugee crises on aid organizations in Sudan and elsewhere, this can only be a temporary fix. Furthermore, internal issues plagued Sudan before the start of the conflict such as an unfavourable human rights track record, including violence and repression against civilians, as well as high levels of food insecurity. Now, due to the violence of the conflict, important initiatives such as World Food Programme operations have been halted across Sudan.
As a result, efforts need to move beyond ceasefire attempts in order to find a lasting solution to benefit the most vulnerable people who are already facing uncertainty. At the very least, aid organizations need to be able to deliver the critical services that many rely on.
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