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Thousands of refugees are forced to return to South Sudan as the conflict in Sudan escalates

As the conflict in Sudan continues into its second month, over 250,000 people have crossed international borders to seek safety in neighbouring Egypt, South Sudan, Chad, Central African Republic and Ethiopia. Among them, over 67,000 South Sudanese who had sought asylum in Sudan have decided to return to South Sudan.

Posted on 23 May 2023

Before the conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) broke out on 15 April, Sudan hosted over 803,000 South Sudanese refugees.

Over the past six weeks, the lack of access to safety, essential supplies, water and electricity have made the situation untenable, and close to 60,000 South Sudanese refugees have been forced to return despite conditions in South Sudan not being conducive to durable solutions.

The majority of those who are able to reach the border with South Sudan are entering through the border town of Renk, in Upper Nile State, with onwards travel to Palouch, Malakal and Melut . 46 percent of the refugees who were forced to return stated Juba as their final destination.

The new arrivals add to the 9.4 million people estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance in South Sudan – 76 percent of the population – including 2.2 million internally displaced people.

In early May 2023, the Danish Refugee Council’s (DRC) Mobile Response Team (MRT) conducted an assessment in Renk in order to better understand the needs of the new arrivals and inform DRC’s humanitarian response.

Many of the people met by the MRT had travelled by bus and in the back of trucks on arduous journeys that took between two and three days to reach the border. Some of them faced harassment, confiscation of belongings and detention by the armed forces in Sudan along the route.

Those arriving in Renk are often in a state of distress and shock, and continue to face difficulties in the overcrowded transit centre, which is not designed for long-term stays.

The congestion of the site leads to competition over shelter and places to sleep, as well as increased protection risks.

The transit site has inadequate shelter to accommodate such a large number of people. I saw families laying under makeshift shelter made from suitcases, timber and blankets. I have seen a woman seeking privacy and sun cover under a mattress. People are already vulnerable and exhausted after the border crossing, their exposure to the elements is very concerning.

/  Alana Mascoll, Country Director, South Sudan

The vast majority of new arrivals intend to travel onward. Yet, a significant number of them are not able to due to lack of transportation and/or lack of funds to secure their travel. The longer people stay at the transit centre, the more they will deplete their resources with basic necessities.

It is expected that up to 120,000 refugees who are forced to return and 45,000 refugees of other nationalities may cross the border from Sudan into South Sudan for refuge.

DRC's response

From the onset of the crisis, DRC deployed its Mobile Response Teams to Renk and other border entry points. DRC’s emergency teams have conducted Rapid Protection Assessments, participated in the coordination of service provision for refugees and returnees at the border, and provided critical lifesaving assistance.

DRC continues to respond with additional emergency team deployments to congested border entry points, and seeks to support displaced people who continue their journey into urban and semi-urban areas. Additionally, DRC, through its operations in Malakal, has already activated a protection desk at the arrival site and continues to coordinate protection and SNFI response for the influx of conflict-affected populations.

Humanitarian agencies do help with the facilitation of onward transport. But with no durable solutions in sight, what happens to people when they reach their destination?

/  Alana Mascoll, Country Director, South Sudan

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