Thousands of Sudanese refugees watch as the first emergency aid workers arrive in a village in Chad, days after fleeing their troubled home country. Mothers tended to young children, while men listed their most urgent needs – water, vaccines, tarpaulins for the coming rainy season.
Fighting that erupted in Sudan’s capital last month has spread far beyond the city’s borders, worsening instability in the restive western region of Darfur and sending thousands fleeing to neighboring countries including Chad in central Africa.
As villages empty in western Sudan, villages in eastern Chad are filling up: camps have sprung up, sometimes in days, thousands of tents made of colorful sheets strung on branches, creating a delicate patchwork of uncertainty.
The escalating conflict in Darfur is the latest litmus test for a region that has been plagued by genocidal violence for two decades. It has also deepened a humanitarian crisis in Chad, where hundreds of thousands of people displaced from Darfur have already taken refuge.
UN refugee agency Said Last week 60,000 Sudanese had arrived in Chad since the start of the conflict – doubling an earlier assessment, with 25,000 refugees recently registered in the Chadian village of Borota alone. Most had fled to Congo Haraja, a village on the other side of the border in Darfur.
Two New York Times reporters went with the UN agency last week to Borota, where tens of thousands of refugees are living without food, water and other essentials.
The volatile situation in Darfur has fueled further violence, with Sudan’s most powerful groups, the army and the RSF, fighting for control in the capital Khartoum.
According to aid workers, doctors and local activists, the militias, mostly composed of Arab fighters, have taken advantage of the power outages to ransack towns, loot homes and kill an unknown number of civilians. In response, some civilians have begun arming themselves, and non-Arab groups have also retaliated against the militias on a smaller scale.
Along with Khartoum and two nearby cities along the Nile, the cities in Darfur have been hardest hit by fighting between the Sudanese army and a paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Force. Hospitals were looted and markets were burnt.
But whereas Khartoum was a peaceful city before April, Darfur has been torn by decades of violence.
More than 300,000 people were killed in Darfur in the 2000s, when Sudan’s former dictator, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, ordered militias widely known as Janjaweed to crush an insurgency among non-Arab groups. Had given. A popular uprising in 2019 led to Mr al-Bashir being ousted, but the situation in Darfur remains in place. deteriorateincluding ethnically motivated attacks in recent years.
The latest influx of refugees is also increasing pressure on Chad, a landlocked, vast Central African country that shares an 870-mile border with Sudan and among the poorest people in the world Nation’s. Its eastern region, semi-arid and isolated, is already home to more than 400,000 refugees from Darfur living in 13 camps, which are now being filled by new arrivals aided by the UN refugee agency.
About 90 percent of the refugees from Darfur recently registered by the United Nations in Chad are women and children. For most families, there is no question of returning to Sudan.
“Back to what and where to go?” said Khadija Abubakar, a mother of five young children who said she fled Congo Haraja with her husband this month. “As long as there is no security, we are living.”
The violence in Darfur is showing no signs of abating. Armed groups attacked El Jinina, the capital of West Darfur and 15 miles from Chad looted health facilities and burned down refugee camps. Hospitals are out of service, and humanitarian workers have fled the city for Chad, leaving thousands of people in need and trapped in the midst of the fighting.
According to the Sudanese Doctors’ Trade Union, at least 280 people have died in El Jinina alone in the past few days. Aid workers and Chadian officials now hope that a pause in the fighting there could prompt tens of thousands to flee to Chad.
In Borota, which is four miles from the Sudanese border, many refugees fled before violence erupted in Darfur, according to Jean-Paul Habamungu, the UN agency’s coordinator of operations in eastern Chad.
He was one of the first humanitarian workers to reach Borota, arriving on 11 May. They were stunned by what they saw: hundreds of children, most of whom had arrived in previous days, lined up in front of them, so many that it caught local officials and aid agencies by surprise.
The refugee camp is at least four hours away from the nearest aid post in the area, and parts of the sandy and rough roads used to cross the area will soon be inundated during the rainy season. As we crossed some dry valleys or rivers on our way to Borota, raindrops appeared and started forming puddles.
Ms. Abubakar, a mother of five, has spent days waiting for her husband to find food in a nearby village. When she tried to stop two children playing in the dust nearby, she said she too needed water and soap.
Other Sudanese repeated similar arguments. “We need vaccinations for the children, we need tarpaulins when it rains,” said 43-year-old Adoum Ahmed Issa, a father of four.
In nearby tents, children dressed in rags slept on their mothers’ laps while other parents prepared madida hilba, a thick porridge, and small grasshoppers in the 100-degree heat. Most had fled with cooking supplies, bed sheets and mats and in some cases a donkey.
Mr. Issa and about two dozen other refugees said in interviews this month that the violence in Darfur preceded the fighting in Khartoum. But many said the new conflict has only made things worse.
It is not clear how many people have been killed in Darfur, but their number is estimated to be in the hundreds. At least 822 civilians have been killed and more than 3,200 injured in the month-long conflict, according to the doctors’ union.
Aid agencies have rushed to help the refugees gathered in Chad, often in sites miles apart. In some areas, such as the Chadian border village of Koufrouane, The refugees have managed to bring furniture, mattresses and bed frames.
On a recent morning, a few men and teenagers crossed a dry riverbed on horse-drawn carts – the border between the two countries – traveling back and forth between Koufrouane and the Sudanese village of Tendelti on the other side. Some villagers said they fled under gunfire in the early days of the conflict. Tendelti is now empty of most residents.
Under the shade of mango trees leaning under the weight of ripe fruit, some Chadian soldiers stood guard along the riverbank.
“Tendelti is now here in Chad,” said Fatima Doldoum, a 50-year-old mother of five, who said she fled in late March. Relatives returned in April to take back their beds.
“This is the first time so many people are bringing everything they can,” said Alexandra Roulet-Simprich, country director of the International Rescue Committee, an aid organization providing health services in Caffroune. “It’s also the first time many of them say ‘we’re not coming back.'”
Congo Haraja is also mostly empty now, and people from other Sudanese communities have arrived in Borota in recent days, said Mr. Habamungu of the UN agency.
As he visited the site last week, Mr Habamungu said a Chadian official told him the war in Darfur was just beginning. “That made me stop and wonder,” said Mr. Habamungu. “How are we going to cope?”