‘I just want to meet my kids,’ says 36-year-old Samar (name changed). She fled to South Sudan after suffering sexual abuse during the conflict and became separated from her children. [Peter Caton/Plan International]By Peter CatonPublished On 8 Feb 20248 Feb 2024
For the last 10 months, thousands of people have fled the civil war in Sudan to Renk, a town just over the border in South Sudan.
Since April 2023, at least 541,888 people have arrived. In December, UN agencies registered 71, 757 people, the highest number of new arrivals from any month last year.
About 18 percent of them are Sudanese and 81 percent are South Sudanese. The latter likely left South Sudan when the country experienced its own civil war between 2013 and 2020. They were forced to return due to the war in Sudan between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese army.
Conditions in Renk are bleak. Due to the high number of arrivals each day, refugee camps and gatherings are severely overcrowded. The transit centre was only preparing to host 4,000 people, but it now harbours more than 23,000.
Sanitation provision is woefully insufficient, with 200 people sharing one latrine. Cases of cholera, the measles and severe malnutrition are on the rise.
Aid agencies are struggling to meet the dire needs of families exhausted and traumatised after walking for days with little food and water. Even once they arrive at the transit centre, there is barely enough food and clean water available for them. More shelters, medicine and basic supplies are desperately needed.
Nyasebit, 13, left Khartoum when the fighting began. Her mother was killed in armed clashes, leaving her to guide her two younger brothers to Renk. “It took seven days to arrive in Renk from Khartoum. It was so painful and we faced a lot of challenges. The boys didn’t have shoes and we had to carry the younger one,” she told Al Jazeera.
The children are among the rare few who have been able to track down family in Renk, and they are residing in one of the eight shelters provided by Plan International, where they are being cared for by their aunt. The organisation says the number of unaccompanied children and adolescent girls arriving in Renk is worrying – particularly as these groups are at the highest risk of sexual exploitation and abuse.
Every day, more people arrive in Renk than those who leave. Many who do continue are aiming to get to the capital Juba or to refugee camps in Maban, a 10-hour bus journey away. Over 20,000 people have arrived in Maban, with a surge in numbers in recent months.
That has raised concerns about the health services available to tend to the new arrivals. The sole provider is Relief International, which warns that the number of infections from malaria and measles is high. Although aid workers are supplying lifesaving vaccines and medicine to the population, more is urgently needed to cope with the increase in arrivals.
Dewi Osman’s family fled Sudan, while he stayed behind to gather crops to feed his wife and children. The journey was so dangerous that he was unable to cook anything out of fear of being spotted by armed fighters who often shoot at anything that moves.
Eventually, he became so weak that he was forced to leave the crops by the roadside. He is being reunited with his children in Maban, where the family is receiving medical and nutrition support from Relief International.
Children at the Plan International Child Friendly Space in Renk, where they are provided with psychosocial support and recreational activities. The crisis has a devastating impact on the lives of children, as schools have been closed since the war began. [Peter Caton/Plan International]The transit centre in Renk, Upper Nile State, South Sudan is home to more than 10,000 people fleeing the war in Sudan. More shelters are urgently needed to shield people from the harsh sun and heavy rains during the rainy season. [Peter Caton/Plan International]A child plays in an open sewer at the transit centre in Renk. The high influx of people is putting enormous pressure on resources. Originally the transit centre was only intended to host up to 4,000 people, but more than 23,000 are currently sheltering there. [Peter Caton/Plan International]Sara (name changed) is 17 years old and lives with her three younger siblings just outside the transit centre in Renk. Sara suffered sexual violence from soldiers who attacked the family’s house and killed their father. She then became head of the household and has to care for her young siblings. ‘I have a young baby and young siblings to care for. I am all by myself. I am depressed and sad,’ she says. [Peter Caton/Plan International]Niehmo, 10, sits in his shelter at the Renk transit centre, provided by Plan International. In Renk, around 23,000 people are taking shelter, with 6,000 in the transit centre and 14,000 in three locations elsewhere. [Peter Caton/Plan International]Nyasebit, 13, lost her mother in the Sudan war. As head of the household, she led her two brothers for seven days by foot to Renk, South Sudan. The children are staying in a Plan International shelter where they have been united with an aunt. [Peter Caton/Plan International]Nyawich Mai, 20, rests at a shelter built by Plan International. Inside, people use whatever materials they can find to block their space and give themselves privacy. Plan International has been providing food, soap, buckets, mosquito nets, water-treating tablets, jerrycans, buckets, sleeping mats and plastic sheets to refugees and returnees. [Peter Caton/Plan International]People registering at the refugee camps in Maban. Relief International says there is not enough staff, medicine or supplies to cope with the surge of people arriving. [Peter Caton/Relief International]Sudanese refugee Ayen Akol with her baby, who is receiving care from Relief International for a severe skin condition she developed on the journey to Maban. [Peter Caton/Relief International]Refugees from Sudan find shelter under a tree on their way to Maban. The journey can take two weeks or more. [Peter Caton/Relief International]Sudanese refugees flee with all their possessions in hand. [Peter Caton/Relief International]Ibrahim Hassan’s family walked with others for six days to reach Maban. [Peter Caton/Relief International]Refugees on the last mile of their walk from Sudan to Maban. [Peter Caton/Relief International]New arrivals Abdalla Muhammad, Fatima Salim and Kazima Salim with their children are pictured at the Doro Refugee Camp reception centre in Maban. Abdalla was a farmer. The family were forced to leave their land due to the approaching conflict and failed crops. Speaking about the refugee camps in Maban, Relief International Project Manager Dr Alex Mawa says, ‘The prevalence of malaria is very high. The anti-malaria medicine is used within four days – that is almost two tonnes of medicine.’ [Peter Caton/Relief International]Sara Zarouq and Hiba Rayan take transport from the Renk reception centre to a refugee camp for new arrivals in Maban. Aid organisations say funding is urgently needed to increase the transportation of families to settlements for displaced people. [Peter Caton/Relief International]