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“Even here, we are not safe”: Refugees in Chad face extreme hardship as conflict continues in Sudan

Guisama with her six-month old baby awaiting medical assistance at a mobile health facility in Chad set up to support refugees from Sudan. Photo: Joel Baidebne/CARE

Guisama with her six-month old baby awaiting medical assistance at a mobile health facility in Chad set up to support refugees from Sudan. Photo: Joel Baidebne/CARE

Haowa fled from her village in Sudan across the border into Chad. But she was still too close to the conflict.

“Even here, we are not safe,” she says from the refugee camp in Kouffroun.

Only a few weeks earlier, she says, “bullets whizzing from the Sudan side killed 10 people and injured several more.”

So now, even though she escaped from the ongoing conflict, Haowa lives in constant fear for her life and that of her family. She’s not alone.

In the four months since the first shots were fired, the humanitarian crisis has led to widespread death, destruction, and displacement across the region.

Portrait of Haowa as she awaits relocation to a refugee camp following an increase in violence in Sudan. Photo: Joel Baidebne/CARE

“The humanitarian situation in Chad is rapidly deteriorating,” says Deepmala Mahla, Vice President, Humanitarian Affairs at CARE. “Millions of hardworking people across the country have, for a long time, needed assistance just to survive. The most recent outbreak of conflict in Sudan has forced hundreds of thousands of people – mostly women and children – to flee for their lives.”

Nearly 3.3 million people have been displaced within Sudan, and more than 960,000 have left Sudan to neighboring countries, including more than 370,000 into Chad.

“90% of the refugees crossing over daily are women and children,” says Dr. Amadou Bocoum, CARE Chad’s Country Director. “By the time they arrive, they have endured extreme hardship not only from their journey but also from the situation they left at home. Many arrive hungry, thirsty, and in need of immediate medical attention and other basic necessities. We are working alongside other humanitarian actors to support those coming across the border, but we need more support.”

A section of a camp set up by refugees fleeing into Chad from Sudan. The new arrivals, mostly women and children, cross over with little or no possessions. They have settled in spontaneous sites, building straw huts, as they await their relocation to camp sites. Photo: Joel Baidebne/CARE

Most of those escaping the violence undertake the journey with little or no possessions. Even after crossing over the border into Chad, they’re often still not safe.

And then, once there, life in the camps is not easy.

In addition to rampant disease, UNHCR reports indicate that one-fifth of children in camps are acutely malnourished.

Guisma, a mother of one, has been waiting for medical attention at an overwhelmed mobile clinic.

“My child is six months old, and he has been sick for two days, he is just crying,” she says. “I am not at peace.”

“The situation for women is absolutely dire,” says Deepmala. “Around 270,000 pregnant and lactating mothers will also face acute malnutrition this year. Women are skipping meals, there just isn’t enough to eat.”

Koubra, 46, has been separated from her husband and five of her six children due to the conflict. Photo: Joel Baidebne/CARE

A recent Rapid Gender crisis analysis by CARE found that women are going hungrier than men. 42 percent of female-headed households in Sudan are food insecure, compared with 31 percent of male-headed households. Food intake was also 10 percent lower in female-headed households than in male-headed households. And that was before the recent crisis escalated.

Koubra, a 46-year-old mother of six from Darfur, was in Khartoum seeking medical care for one of her children when the fighting broke out. She crossed the border into Chad, but then she was separated from her five other children and husband, who are still in Darfur.

“The conflict broke out when I was in the hospital with my youngest child, who’s eight years old and was sick. We were evacuated from Khartoum to Tiné, a town on the border with Sudan. I have no news of my five other children in our village in Darfur. I think about them all the time.”

“I wanted to cross the border to see if they were still there, but the road is blocked, there is shooting everywhere and yesterday the fighters set fire to the houses on their way.”

Since the conflict began, the CARE Chad team —who were already supporting displaced populations in the country before this current crisis—have been active in the border communities alongside local and international partners. This work has included needs assessments, capacity building, water and sanitation projects, and gender-based violence campaigns. Humanitarian needs far outpace resources, with the Humanitarian Response Plan only 21 percent funded.

Recently arrived refugees in Adre, Ouaddai province. Photo: Joel Baidebne/CARE

“When people are scared, hungry, or thirsty, says Deepmala, “Their only option is to move in search of safety, food, and water.”

“We must fight hunger now with emergency food, but we are also building the resilience of women and their families to withstand the many challenges that keep them from returning home.”

“Clean water and access to health clinics can save the lives of children under five and pregnant and lactating mothers. But saving lives requires acting fast and we need additional funding to be able to do so.”