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APO International

Refugees in Eastern Sudan at Risk

todayJuly 10, 2024 4

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Amid the widespread civilian suffering in Sudan, the fate of over one million refugees living in Sudan when the conflict erupted is often overlooked.

In recent weeks, Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) attacked towns across Sennar state, which neighbors Gedaref state and where more than 40,000 refugees from Ethiopia are currently hosted. In Kassala state, further east, Eritreans fleeing repression and indefinite forced conscription at home continue to arrive in the camps.

“If the fighting approaches Gedaref and Kassala, we will not be safe,” an Ethiopian refugee told me last month; these fears are now even more justified.

Since conflict erupted in Sudan, Ethiopian refugees, mainly hosted in Gedaref, have been raising very real concerns about their safety and the lack of humanitarian support. Some have independently sought ways to leave the camps, but many thousands remain.

Without a clear protection or evacuation strategy, those in the camps could face violence or targeted attacks by warring parties, especially following accusations by the RSF that Tigrayan forces were fighting alongside Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). Refugees also face the risk of mass arrests by SAF-aligned authorities in towns in Gedaref state, with reports that some Ethiopians have already been detained.

Some Ethiopian refugees understandably fear returning home as the real risk of violence or persecution that made them refugees may still persist. The majority in Gedaref’s two camps, and some in Kassala, are from Ethiopia’s Western Tigray Zone and fled a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign against Tigrayans during Ethiopia’s two-year conflict. Those responsible for these crimes still control the area, and Human Rights Watch continues to receive reports of forces forcefully expelling Tigrayans, with Ethiopian military complicity, to other parts of Tigray. Here they join hundreds of thousands of other internally displaced people facing dismal conditions.

Ethiopian authorities have reportedly formed a committee to return refugees in Sudan to Ethiopia, but refugees inside the camps need travel permits from the Sudanese authorities. It is critical that United Nations agencies work with Sudanese and Ethiopian authorities to assist refugees seeking to leave with safe, dignified, voluntary, and organized pathways, while ensuring that no one is coerced or forced to return to locations where they would face serious risks. Organizations and the international community should consider all possible means of support, including cash and transport, to ensure that refugees are moved out of harm’s way.

Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees in Sudan have been forgotten for too long; now is the time to act.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Human Rights Watch (HRW).

    

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