Hungry, weary and lost
Children and women comprise almost 75% of the thousands of people fleeing Sudan
It’s over 40 degrees under the scorching sun in the once small border village of Roriak in the north of Unity State in South Sudan. Since 2021, tens of thousands of people have been displaced in and around Bentiu after flooding engulfed much of the area. Now, tens of thousands more are arriving each week across the border from Sudan.
At a dusty transit site , large buses overflowing with people and belongings roll in from the border. Children, women and families join 83,000 (as of May 28) who have fled Sudan and arrived in South Sudan since mid-April.
Crowds gather around the bus and friends and relatives embrace after a long and dangerous journey from Khartoum and other parts of Sudan.
As the crowds gather, UNICEF staff and partners spring into action to meet children, young people and families who have just arrived. At the transit site, UNICEF alongside partners are supporting the response in border regions by expanding and scaling up existing programmes. UNICEF is supporting health, nutrition and child protection screening (including tracing and reunification); as well as providing health services such as vaccinations, medical services and malnutrition treatment. And provide the most vulnerable with basic frontline services after entry into the country.
Samuel Luny, from Women’s Vision, a UNICEF Child Protection partner, meets two young boys, Juma (12) and John (16), who’ve wearily stepped off one of the buses. Juma and John were separated from family amidst the fighting in the capital of Sudan, Khartoum and had travelled several days to reach Roriak. They were travelling alone, and were hoping to reconnect with family members who had arrived earlier.
Juma said he ran away from the shelling and gunfire and hitched a ride on one of the buses when the driver allowed him to jump on board before it set off. He spent four days travelling from Khartoum to the border standing up in the bus as there was no seats left. Along the way from Khartoum, a group of armed men diverted the bus into the bush and stole all the passengers’ possessions including Juma’s little money and documents. His voice softening, he mentioned that five women from their bus were also sexually abused during the ordeal.
As soon as they arrived in Roriak, children and women who needed care were immediately taken to the UNICEF integrated medical and nutrition center in Roriak for further screening and treatment. The other new arrivals joined the thousands of others sheltering at the transit site.
“We’ve seen more than 130 children arrive requiring child protection and psychosocial support over the last few weeks here in Roriak,” said Samuel.
More than 50 unaccompanied or separated children have arrived for which we have managed to reunite most with families. For the remaining children, we’ve increased our efforts to trace family members and are ensuring they get the support and services they need.
Juma and John became friends on the journey and while Juma only left South Sudan a year ago and knew where his family was in the Bentiu Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camp, John moved to Khartoum 10 years ago when his family fled conflict in South Sudan. He had no idea where his brother, sister and Aunt were in the immense IDP camp.
On the bumpy road back to Bentiu for further health screening, John looks with surprise out the window at the landscape surrounded by flood waters and dead trees. “What is this place? Look at all the water,” he asks Juma. More than 240,000 people have been displaced in Unity State since 2021 after widespread flooding. “I will show you around the camp,” says Juma as they enter the IDP camp where an additional 112,000 people live in addition to the communities displaced by the flood.
UNICEF, together with partner Women Vision, runs a child friendly center in the Bentiu IDP camp where the boys were able to rest and regroup after the harrowing journey. They were registered, given documentation, counselling and support and they were reunited with family by the end of the day.
“I didn’t know if he was alive or not,” said an emotional Nyambeng, Juma’s mother, after she was reunited with her son.
I was so surprised when he came here tonight. I can only thank the well-wishers who have helped bring my son back to me.
In another section of the camp, John’s aunt and brother were overcome with emotion when he arrived at their small, cramped tarpaulin covered home. “When I last saw him, he looked like these other small children. Now he is so big,” said Nyakuoke Twil, John’s aunt.
Mothers arriving from Sudan with severely malnourished children
Meanwhile, back in the Roriak transit site, Kaway, a 22-year-old mother of 4 arrived from the crisis-hit city of Obdurman in Sudan with her husband and children. It’s a similar story as thousands of others fleeing the violence in Sudan. All their possessions were robbed during the 11-day journey by soldiers, and they arrived at the Transit Site in South Sudan with very little. The family has made a home under a shelter made up of sticks and several pieces of cloth, and their youngest child Nathiang, is sick with diarrhea and had lost weight.
She was referred to the UNICEF-supported integrated health and nutrition center and Nathiang was diagnosed with Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM), watery diarrhea, and an upper respiratory tract infection. She received antibiotics and Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) and will receive follow-up care and counselling.
Originally from Mayom County, her family left for Sudan in 2016 but now have no home to return to. “We don’t understand the situation in Sudan,” she said. “We just had to flee the fighting and now we are sleeping in the open with nothing. I’m grateful for the support we are receiving but we are struggling with shelter, food, and water,” she said.
With other UN agencies and partners, UNICEF through its World Bank-supported Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness (CERHSP) project is mobilizing and scaling up support for health, nutrition, and child protection services to the border areas in Upper Nile and Unity States, to respond to the growing needs of new arrivals. With thanks to USAID and ECHO, UNICEF is providing life-saving nutrition supplies and services, as well as child protection services.
As the situation continues to deteriorate in Sudan, the numbers of people returning to South Sudan continue to grow, as are their needs. Government and UN partners are scaling up the response, but more is needed. The UN in South Sudan is appealing for $96 million to respond to the growing needs of those returning.