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Sudanese refugees fleeing conflict find refuge in South Sudan

The arrival of over half a million people in South Sudan fleeing the Sudan conflict is stretching humanitarian efforts to their limits. Yangi Teresa Justine/ Oxfam

Oxfam is working with partners to assist people crossing the border seeking safety.

When fighting erupted in Sudan’s capital Khartoum in April 2023, 26-year-old Aisha was home with her husband and two children. Gunshot sounds were getting closer to her home and she knew that they had to run for their survival.

“My husband and I took our two children and escaped, there was no time for anything else,” says Aisha. However, while escaping, Aisha was caught up in the crossfire and was shot in the hip. “I was in pain; I fell and my husband had to carry me as we escaped.”

The family found transport south and spent a week traveling to Renk in South Sudan. With a bullet still lodged in her hip, Aisha says the journey was difficult due to her condition and did not think she would survive. When they finally reached the border, she says “a doctor from one of the NGOs examined me and just gave me some pain medication; that is now finished.”

Since arriving in Renk, Aisha and her family have been staying out in the open in a makeshift tent consisting of clothes strung on sticks, providing minimal shelter from the heat and little privacy as they wait to be relocated.

“We have stayed in the open since we came. The centers are full, with many people sharing small spaces,” she said adding, “we just spend our day and sleep here,” as she pointed to her makeshift home.

Aisha’s husband approaches all aid organization staff to ask for help on behalf of his wife whose pain has been aggravated by lack of medical attention.

More than 1,500 people arrive in Renk every day. The two transit centers here are meant to be just a registration site initially designed to temporarily host 4,750 people. They are now home to over 15,000 people with hundreds of thousands of others, including Aisha’s family, living out in the open.

The services here are extremely limited and humanitarian agencies are racing to scale up emergency assistance for over 600,000 Sudanese refugees and South Sudanese people returning from Sudan.

What Oxfam is doing to help refugees in South Sudan

Oxfam is working together with partners in South Sudan to provide clean water and proper sanitation to over 90,000 people in the transit camps. Oxfam is working urgently to raise $7 million to ramp up its operations and reach 400,000 people with lifesaving food, clean water, and sanitation.

The humanitarian response in the area around Renk is in addition to other work in South Sudan that has been helping people recover from five years of widespread seasonal flooding and conflict, part of Oxfam’s humanitarian program across East Africa. Oxfam and our partners are assisting people in five states with safe water, resources for sanitation and hygiene, cash grants for families to buy food and other essentials, and support for people to build their incomes, such as seeds, tools, and fishing kits. In 2022 and 2023 Oxfam and our partners assisted more than 800,000 people.

Uncertain times for refugees

The many refugees escaping the war in Sudan are uncertain about where their next meal will be coming from. Thirty-five-year-old Nafisa Ismail Adan is a refugee who arrived in Renk in October 2023 after losing her husband to the conflict. Like Aisha, Nafisa now lives with her seven children in a tent of worn-out cloth strung together. When she arrived, Nafisa got a job fetching water for people, walking nearly seven kilometers (about five miles) one way to get to the nearest water point. “It takes me over two hours just to access the closest water point and I do this more than once, so I can buy food for my children,” explains Nafisa.

Having left everything behind, she says life has not been easy in South Sudan. “We had a home, a job, and even school for my children back in Sudan, but here even water costs $3 which I can’t afford,” she says, adding that although they get some support from aid agencies it, is not enough.

Nafisa and Aisha together with their families are among more than 600,000 people who have fled to neighboring South Sudan since fighting between rival military factions engulfed large parts of Sudan.

But this new emergency is straining an already stretched and underfunded response in South Sudan, a country of about 11 million, that is still reeling from the devastation of a brutal seven-year civil war that ended in 2020.

More than 2.2 million South Sudanese remain internally displaced due to the conflict and the impacts of climate change. Three quarters of South Sudan’s population needs humanitarian aid.

“The people here have shown so much resilience and determination to build their lives despite all odds, but they need our support,” said Oxfam’s South Sudan Country Director Dr. Manenji Mangundu, adding “We must act now and help save lives.”

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