Millions have fled the conflict that has raged in Sudan since April and continues to spread. Many are displaced within the country, seeking refuge in relatively safer regions, while others have made it across the border, with most now in neighbouring Chad. It’s far from danger over for the wounded and traumatised people who fetch up in Chad, a poor country where the facilities to receive refugees are being overwhelmed. Civil society is doing what it can, but the scale of the financial backing for humanitarian efforts is so far deeply inadequate. The international community needs to step up to the challenge.

As Sudan’s bloody conflict shows no signs of abating, civilians are being forced to run for their lives.

The conflict between the regular army – the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) – and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) troops began on 15 April when the RSF launched a surprise attack. The two had been bedfellows in military government since October 2021, but personal rivalry and jockeying for political and economic power between their leaders sparked conflict. This was brought to a head by the announcement of a transition plan for a supposed return to democracy in December 2022 that made the RSF fear it was being sidelined.

Violence was originally concentrated in the capital, Khartoum, and surrounding areas, but has since spread south to the Darfur and Kordofan regions in particular, reigniting old conflicts that had been relatively subdued in recent years. Both sides have recruited rebel groups and ethnic militias, some of which are acting independently.

This battle for power has so far cost over 5,000 civilian lives. In one of the latest atrocities, at least 25 people died in airstrikes on Khartoum over 2 and 3 September. This is far from the first SAF airstrike that has killed civilians, while the RSF is doing the same in its ground war. It’s beyond question that all sides in the conflict are killing civilians. Sexual violence is being widely used as an instrument of terror.

In Darfur there are reports of executions, ethnically targeted killings, villages being burned to the ground and the dead being buried in mass graves. The RSF grew out of the Janjaweed forces accused of committing genocide against the local population since 2003. Now the potential for genocide is growing again.

The scale of human suffering is vast. The United Nations (UN) estimates that over 14 million children need humanitarian aid and more than six million people are close to famine, with subsistence agriculture disrupted by the conflict and access to vital medical supplies scarce.

Displacement on a huge scale

The Institute of Migration’s latest assessment is that almost 7.1 million people are now displaced within Sudan, with 3.8 million displaced due to the conflict. Some have been forced from their homes when the RSF has taken them over for military barracks. Many have been forced to flee Khartoum and its neighbouring city of Omdurman to other parts of the country, seeking the spots where the conflict is less present. Now people are having to leave their homes in South Kordofan as the violence intensifies there.

In addition to those displaced in Sudan, around a million have taken perilous journeys across the border. Over 300,000 of them have headed to neighbouring Chad. Some 2,000 new refugees are arriving each day in Chad, many at the border town of Adré, the nearest point to West Darfur.

The refugee camps in Chad are safer than staying in Sudan but bring hazards of their own. People struggle to get enough food and clean water and live in cramped conditions, often in improvised tents. Camps have rapidly filled and people have been forced to live in new camps even before construction was finished. Crowded and insanitary conditions bring a high risk of outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and measles, and malaria is a growing problem with the onset of the rainy season. Many recent arrivals are wounded, needing urgent treatment.

Most of the people arriving in Chad are women and children, and many of the children are suffering from malnutrition. Some children have travelled on their own, placing them at danger of sexual exploitation and child labour. Women remain at risk of gender-based violence even once in Chad.

People carry with them the experience of immense trauma, sometimes having lost loved ones on the way. Some women have seen their husbands and children killed in cold blood, and some parents have had to pay ransoms to secure their children’s safety. The support needs – both physical and psychosocial – are immense.

Those fleeing include refugees from other countries in the region who’d previously sought safety in Sudan: before the fighting started, Sudan was home to Africa’s second-largest refugee population, standing at around a million. This is a retraumatising experience for many, and a potential renewed danger for those returning to countries they’d fled.

Impacts in Chad

The unexpected arrival of many new people has placed even greater strain on impoverished communities. Chad was already home to around a million internally displaced people and refugees before the conflict began. Chad is a low-income country with poor healthcare provision, unable to respond adequately to the new demands being made on it. The arrival of many new people has helped push up prices of fuels and staple foods, leaving both locals and new arrivals struggling.

Local populations are pleading with the humanitarian community to also provide aid to them, as they have welcomed refugees into their communities and shared their very limited resources with them.


The hostility that local populations often feel towards refugees largely hasn’t surfaced so far. The government hasn’t tried to stop refugees coming to Chad and has instead tried to extend a humanitarian welcome. But as numbers grow and time goes on, greater strains can be expected and there’s still potential for tensions to rise.

Civil society, from local to international, is stepping up to do everything it can to help meet needs, including by drilling wells and delivering food and water, providing essential healthcare and working to protect children and women from further violence. But the size of the task is huge, when it comes to helping both refugees and the local population – and the resources available aren’t nearly enough.

Voices from the frontline

Monim Haroon is Emergency Communications Manager at the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the world’s oldest refugee agency that helps hundreds of thousands of displaced people in over 20 countries.


The stories we hear from refugees are harrowing and heartbreaking, encapsulating the violence and adversity they have endured. They tell us that men are killed, arrested or prevented from leaving Darfur with their families. A 20-year-old refugee told us that because her father and older brother were both killed on their way to Chad, the family was ‘left without a protector and breadwinner’. A woman in her late 30s told us that when they were on their way to Chad, militia men stopped her husband and her nine-year-old son and told her to go on; a few seconds later she heard gunshots, turned around and saw them lying on the ground.

In addition to mental health support, the needs of refugees span from necessities like food and clean water to medical care and housing. Camps have insufficient access to clean water, food and sanitation. Refugees consistently tell us that they barely eat two meals a day and that they drink and wash their clothes with rainwater. Lack of electricity makes communication with their families back in Sudan difficult and has led women, in particular, to feel unsafe while moving around the camps after dark.

Lack of adequate shelter is of particular concern. Around 150,000 refugees are currently living in overcrowded camps where living conditions are incredibly harsh. Families of up to 12 members must fit into 3-by-3.5-metre makeshifts that they must kneel to enter and that provide no privacy and little protection from the rain and sun. They sleep directly on the ground, with no beds or mattresses.

These conditions make the refugee community incredibly vulnerable to diseases and elevate the risk of gender-based violence. It is urgent to address these needs in a comprehensive manner, which requires immediate attention and support from the international community.

The local population has been quite welcoming. People have provided land to establish refugee camps and transit sites and have shared scarce resources – water, firewood and food – with the refugees. In some communities, refugees have outnumbered the population of the host community by a factor of ten, putting a lot of pressure on resources.

On some occasions farmland has been destroyed to create space to shelter refugees, and the Chadian government has negotiated with communities to ensure access to land and peaceful coexistence. Inevitably, however, some tensions have been reported. Local populations are pleading with the humanitarian community to also provide aid to them, as they have welcomed refugees into their communities and shared their very limited resources with them.

Most refugees in the world are hosted in global south countries that share a border with the country people are fleeing from. Chad is no exception.

Chad is one of the poorest countries in the world, but it has kept its borders open to refugees. It needs greater support from the international community to meet the needs of not just the new arriving refugees, but also the ones it has been hosting for over 20 years, not to mention its own population.


This is an edited extract of our conversation with Monim. Read the full interview here.

International effort needed

For those displaced within Sudan, one of the challenges is the lack of safe access for international humanitarian groups. All sides in the conflict are flouting international humanitarian law, which demands the protection of humanitarian workers. Several humanitarian workers have been killed and warehouses of humanitarian supplies have been looted. At least 120 humanitarian workers seeking to travel to Sudan, whose skills in fields such as healthcare could be vital, are reportedly subject to visa delays.

It’s a very dangerous environment for civil society in general. Human rights lawyers and activists have been assassinated in Darfur. Journalists are being targeted by all sides, making accurate reporting of the conflict harder and causing many to flee to save their lives.

In Sudan, the neighbourhood resistance committees – local volunteer groups that once kept up the pressure to restore democracy – have taken on the new role of providing emergency help to people affected by the conflict. But groups that advocate for peace are being cracked down on. In August, several hundred women protested in Damazin, capital of Blue Nile state, to demand an end to the conflict, but the activists who organised it were quickly arrested.

There’s an urgent need to support and enable civil society, because there’s no end to the conflict in sight. Any number of supposed ceasefires brokered by the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an East African body, have been ignored. Against this backdrop, it’s certain that more people will flee. The UN has recently said that by the end of the year it expects over 1.8 million people to have left Sudan, arriving in the Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia and South Sudan.

And yet the lack of international support is blatant. The Sudan conflict isn’t getting the global attention it should. The UN’s Sudan Humanitarian Response Plan, which asks states and other donors to commit US$2.57 billion, is currently only 26.4 per cent funded. It’s on target to be funded at the same level as 2022 – despite the conflict having started since then, with the immense impacts it’s brought. The UN Refugee Agency and 64 civil society organisations recently launched a further appeal for US$1 billion to support those living in neighbouring countries – and it can be expected to face a similar struggle to secure funding.

The international community must step up and take some responsibility. The instigators of the conflict must too. They must respect ceasefires, allow humanitarian access and ultimately be prepared to be held accountable for their atrocities. But the most immediate need is for funders to stop standing on the sidelines, and to provide the help that’s urgently needed to those who need it most – Sudan’s newly displaced millions.


  • All parties in the conflict must immediately declare a long-term ceasefire and commit to a peace process.
  • All forces must guarantee full and safe access for humanitarian agencies and commit to respecting the rights of civilians, humanitarian workers, civil society and United Nations staff.
  • The international community must step up its support to meet the immediate humanitarian and longer-term needs of people displaced both within Sudan and across its borders.

Cover photo by Zohra Bensemra/Reuters via Gallo Images