USCR Country Report Sudan: Statistics on refugees and other uprooted people, Jun 2001

Report
from US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Published on 19 Jun 2001
Approximately 465,000 Sudanese were refugees or asylum seekers at the end of 2000: some 200,000 in Uganda, about 70,000 in Ethiopia, an estimated 70,000 in Congo-Kinshasa, at least 55,000 in Kenya, 35,000 in Central African Republic, about 20,000 in Chad, some 12,000 in Egypt, and nearly 2,000 new Sudanese asylum applicants in Europe.
An estimated 4 million Sudanese were internally displaced - the largest internally displaced population in the world. A huge population of Sudanese exiles lived in Egypt and elsewhere, many of whom considered themselves to be refugees although host governments did not give them official refugee status. At least 100,000 Sudanese became newly uprooted by violence during 2000.

Sudan hosted 385,000 refugees from neighboring countries: about 350,000 from Eritrea, some 25,000 from Ethiopia, about 5,000 from Uganda, and nearly 5,000 from Chad.

Pre-2000 Events

Civil war has persisted in Sudan virtually non-stop since 1983. The conflict has contributed to the deaths of an estimated 2 million or more people and has left more than 4 million people uprooted. Most of the violence and population displacement have occurred in the southern half of the country, home to an estimated 5 million to 7 million people.

Sudan's long conflict is fueled by racial, cultural, religious, and political differences between the country's northern and southern populations. The northern population is largely Arab Muslims. The southern population is overwhelmingly black Christians or adherents to local traditional religions. Major internal divisions within the north and the south have also aggravated the violence.

The main southern rebel group, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), and its political arm, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), have officially sought political autonomy within a united Sudan. Some southerners have advocated secession from Sudan and establishment of an independent country in the south. The SPLA has joined with northern political groups opposed to the Sudanese government to form the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which has launched military attacks in eastern Sudan in recent years.

Sudan's current governmental leaders staged a coup to gain power in 1989. Controlled by the hardline National Islamic Front (NIF), the government has armed militia groups that attack military and civilian targets in the south. Several rebel factions defected to the government during the 1990s, and several pro-government factions defected to the rebels, adding to the volatile military situation.

Combatants on all sides have targeted and exploited civilian populations. The Sudanese government has launched regular air strikes against civilian and humanitarian targets and has blocked humanitarian relief deliveries to numerous locations. A combination of drought, violence, and aid blockages by Sudanese authorities triggered a famine in southern Sudan's Bahr el-Ghazal Province in 1998 that killed tens of thousands of people. Rebel factions have manipulated aid programs to gain food for their troops and have conscripted new soldiers from camps housing refugees and displaced people.

By the end of 1999, Sudanese government forces and their allies controlled several key towns in southern Sudan, while the SPLA operated widely in rural areas of the south and controlled a growing number of secondary towns and villages.

Some of the worst violence during 1999 occurred near extensive oil fields in the Upper Nile Province of the south, where the government opened a lucrative oil pipeline to the north and engaged in what many analysts described as a "scorched earth" policy against residents. Violence in Upper Nile Province intensified further when pro-government factions based there clashed against each other.

New Displacement and Violence in 2000

More than 100,000 Sudanese became newly uprooted during 2000, including 30,000 new Sudanese refugees who fled to neighboring countries.

Six main conflict zones existed during the year. The SPLA launched a military offensive in Bahr el-Ghazal Province in the south, officially ending a widely violated two-year cease-fire there and capturing the town of Gogrial. Thousands of persons reportedly fled their homes in the government-controlled town of Wau in anticipation of an SPLA attack that did not materialize. Pro-government militia continued to loot villages and abduct women and children in Bahr el-Ghazal Province, including 300 abductions in a single raid in February. Northern militia have abducted some 5,000 to 15,000 residents of Bahr el-Ghazal during the past 15 years, according to a UN report.

The second conflict area was the northeast, near the Sudan-Eritrea border. The NDA continued a military offensive in the area and briefly threatened the strategic town of Kassala. Tens of thousands of people fled to 18 camps for displaced persons.

A third conflict area was the Nuba Mountains region of central Sudan, where government forces pressed a military offensive. The geographic isolation of the Nuba area and a Sudanese government prohibition against humanitarian aid flights there effectively limited information about the level of violence.

Eastern Equatoria Province in the extreme southeast corner of Sudan was a fourth zone of conflict. The local ethnic Didinga population clashed with SPLA soldiers who were primarily ethnic Dinka. "The SPLA...was behaving as an occupying army," a UN human rights report stated in September. "People were often mistreated and sometimes had the feeling that they were in a foreign country." More than 2,000 persons fled the area to a refugee camp in nearby Kenya.

A fifth conflict area during 2000 was the oil-producing region of southern Sudan, in Upper Nile Province, home to large ethnic Nuer populations. For the second consecutive year, a complex web of fighting in the province among Nuer factions, within pro-government factions, and between pro-government and rebel forces forced at least 50,000 persons to flee their homes. In one provincial district, three-quarters of the residents were displaced. Some fled westward to neighboring Bahr el-Ghazal Province. Others fled to safer locations within Upper Nile Province, such as Bentiu town, where they arrived in "alarming nutritional state," according to Action Contra La Faim (ACF), a relief agency.

Critics of the Sudanese government charged that large-scale population upheaval in Upper Nile Province, in the vicinity of the oil fields, was a deliberate strategy to depopulate the area. "Oil is exacerbating the conflict," stated a Canadian government report that analyzed the link between a Canadian oil company and the war. "It is hard to deny that displacement is now, and has been for some time, because of oil."

The Canadian report charged that Sudanese authorities practiced scorched-earth tactics and that "attacks and displacements are leading to a gradual depopulation. It is necessary to bring an end to these vicious displacements."

Intensified aerial bombardments by Sudanese government planes against civilian and humanitarian targets throughout southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains region effectively constituted the country's sixth conflict zone. Humanitarian organizations, including the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR), documented at least 167 aerial bombings during the year. Additional bombings went unreported and uncounted.

Fourteen persons died in February when an aerial attack struck a school and relief center in the Nuba Mountains. Sudanese government planes bombed a hospital in March, killing three, and struck an outdoor market in Yei town in November, killing 19 civilians and wounding 45. Government bombings in southeastern Sudan in September killed 11.

The large number of bombings pushed people from their homes and disrupted farming and other economic activities. Several bombings targeted humanitarian aid planes and relief operations (see Long-Term Displacement and Conditions below). Sudanese leader General Omar El-Bashir pledged in April to end bombings of civilian targets, but the aerial attacks continued. A UN human rights investigator reported in September that he was "profoundly shocked" by the bombing campaign.

Peace negotiations made no progress during the year. The United Nations, led by the U.S. government, voted to deny the Sudanese government a seat on the UN Security Council because of the country's human rights record. Analysts reported that military expenditures by the Sudanese government had nearly doubled since 1998, financed by the country's new oil revenues.

Long-Term Displacement and Conditions

Seventeen years of warfare have cumulatively left nearly 4.5 million Sudanese uprooted from their homes, including an estimated 4 million internally displaced persons and more than 450,000 refugees. Hundreds of thousands of others, perhaps millions, have migrated from the country in search of better economic opportunities, primarily to Egypt.

Up to 1.5 million people were believed to be internally displaced in the south. Nearly 2 million Sudanese - most of them southerners - have fled or migrated northward to Khartoum, the capital. Hundreds of thousands more were internally displaced in central Sudan's Nuba Mountains region.

About 2.6 million persons were displaced within government-controlled areas, including some 300,000 who have fled to government-controlled towns in the south, according to UN estimates. The remaining 1.4 million displaced people were in areas of nominal rebel control in the south, where civil administration was virtually non-existent. Many displaced families have fled from place to place repeatedly during the course of the war. Few uprooted persons in the south lived in camps; most lived in destitute conditions that were virtually indistinguishable from those of other impoverished residents.

An estimated 2.4 million Sudanese needed food aid, according to an assessment by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization in August. The World Health Organization reported that malaria and diarrheal diseases were responsible for 40 percent of all reported illnesses. Only a handful of hospitals and health clinics functioned in southern Sudan.

Some of the worst deterioration in humanitarian conditions during 2000 occurred in Upper Nile Province, where worsening violence created large new population upheavals and Sudanese government restrictions prevented regular relief deliveries. "Displaced people are living in deplorable conditions, without shelter, sleeping on the ground in pouring rain," the ACF relief agency reported. "Epidemic risks are very high."

A UN humanitarian report on Upper Nile Province warned that "agricultural activities have been abandoned and hunger is prevalent as households' food stocks have been left behind or destroyed." One-fourth of the residents in some parts of the province suffered malnutrition and were in "dire need of assistance," Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported. UNICEF provided immunizations, high-nutrition crackers, plastic sheeting, and mosquito nets for displaced people who reached the Upper Nile town of Bentiu.

Humanitarian conditions remained fragile in Bahr el-Ghazal Province in the aftermath of the area's 1998 famine. Some displaced families returned to their homes in the province, and local crop yields improved. Isolated food shortages persisted, however, and local communities struggled to accommodate newly uprooted people from Upper Nile Province. "People are going several days without food" in some parts of Bahr el-Ghazal, a humanitarian assessment concluded.

In the Nuba Mountains region of central Sudan, more than 170,000 displaced persons lived - many of them involuntarily - in some 72 government-established "peace villages." CARE delivered 14 tons of seeds, tools, and other supplies to civilians in rebel-held areas of the Nuba Mountains in July. The one-time-only delivery was the first time in years that Sudanese government authorities allowed aid deliveries into SPLA-controlled areas of Nuba.

Warfare, administrative restrictions, and logistical challenges continued to hamper humanitarian relief efforts. Ten humanitarian aid workers were killed during the year. Sudanese military planes bombed relief planes in July belonging to the International Committee of the Red Cross and MSF, and in August struck an important UN humanitarian hub in the town of Mapel, in Bahr el-Ghazal Province. MSF charged Sudanese bombers with "deliberate targeting" of humanitarian projects.

"The UN Secretary General is deeply concerned over the security of humanitarian personnel and facilities belonging to Operation Lifeline Sudan," said a UN statement in August, announcing a one-week suspension of relief flights to southern Sudan. In November, UN agencies reported that "the humanitarian operating environment is deteriorating, with humanitarian workers coming under increasing risk of attack, bombing, and hostage taking."

The Sudanese government charged that some relief organizations "have had negative effects of prolonging the war" and threatened to tighten controls over international aid programs in the country. Eleven of the 40 relief agencies operating in southern Sudan closed their programs in early 2000 in a dispute over new rules imposed by the SPLM. The 11 agencies complained that the new rules by rebel leaders jeopardized the political neutrality and flexibility of aid programs. Most of the 11 organizations resumed operations later in the year. Aid workers also charged that SPLA soldiers continued to steal food deliveries, citing several major incidents during the year.

UN relief agencies received about $100 million of the $130 million they needed for assistance programs during 2000. The funding shortfall curtailed projects in health, sanitation, education, and human rights. UN agencies issued an appeal in November for $194 million to fund humanitarian programs during 2001.

Internal Displacement in Khartoum

Nearly 2 million displaced persons, many of them from Sudan's war-ravaged southern region, continued to live in the vicinity of Khartoum. Approximately 220,000 resided in four official camps; most other displaced families occupied 15 dilapidated squatter neighborhoods. About 40 percent of Khartoum's population were displaced persons, according to a UN estimate.

Conditions for displaced occupants of the capital were generally poor. A WFP survey in 1999 found that 80 percent of the displaced population were "very poor" and typically spent four-fifths of their meager incomes for food purchases that met only half of their nutritional requirements. Fewer than 10 percent received food aid. Fewer than one in ten displaced people in the capital held formal jobs, according to an earlier UN study. Three in ten had no access to medical services.

UN studies reported that only one-third of displaced children in Khartoum attended school, and many of the 10,000 or more street children in the capital were from displaced families. "Very little has been done to help the displaced in terms of livelihood support," the UN Development Program stated in a funding appeal to international donors.

Refugees from Eritrea

The estimated 350,000 Eritrean refugees in Sudan at the end of the year included approximately 320,000 long-term refugees who have lived in Sudan for up to 30 years, as well as some 30,000 new refugees who arrived during 2000.

About 80,000 Eritrean refugees fled to northeast Sudan in mid-2000 to escape their country's intensified border war with Ethiopia. Some estimates put the number of new arrivals as high as 95,000. Thousands of the new refugees stayed in Sudan only a few weeks before rapidly returning to Eritrea. An estimated 50,000 repatriated by year's end - half of them with assistance from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and half on their own.

The new arrivals rapidly settled into an existing refugee camp, Shagarab, and two new camps. UNHCR airlifted relief supplies from Europe, and local Sudanese charities provided significant assistance. "The new refugees were in reasonably good health, had taken some of their possessions with them, and also benefited from the generosity of the host population," a UNHCR report stated.

Although no major health problems developed, UNHCR staff complained that the Sudanese government's refugee bureau slowed the distribution of much-needed tents and hampered other emergency response efforts. UNHCR established a new office in the town of Kassala to oversee aid programs for the new refugees. UNHCR temporarily evacuated staff from Kassala in November after an attack on the town by Sudanese rebels.

The 320,000 long-term Eritrean refugees who remained in Sudan had fled Eritrea in the 1980s or earlier during their country's war for independence. About 150,000 resided in some 20 camps and settlements in eastern Sudan. An additional 170,000 long-term refugees resided on their own in towns such as Kassala, Khartoum, and Gedaref.

Camp occupants received food aid, health and education programs, literacy and technical training, and special aid for women and children from UNHCR and other assistance groups. About 12,000 children attended 30 refugee schools in the camps. UNHCR distributed 400 sports balls and 600 athletic uniforms to refugee schools in the first half of the year. A program to save trees through the use of fuel-efficient stoves reduced fuel consumption by half at some refugee sites, UNHCR reported. Aid workers planted nearly 40,000 new trees at refugee camps.

Officials of Sudan, Eritrea, and UNHCR signed a tripartite agreement in April to begin an organized repatriation program for long-term Eritrean refugees. About half of the refugees are expected to repatriate eventually, but their return has long been delayed by political and social tensions, as well as by disputes between Eritrean authorities and UNHCR.

Under the tripartite agreement, the repatriation program was supposed begin in mid-2000. However, renewal of the Eritrea-Ethiopia border war in May forced authorities to cancel the return program before it began. Many refugees intended to repatriate to the southwest corner of Eritrea - an area hit hard by the mid-year fighting. By year's end, authorities hoped to commence the repatriation program in 2001.

Refugees from Ethiopia

Most Ethiopian refugees fled to Sudan in the 1980s to escape civil war and human rights abuses in Ethiopia at that time. Nearly 75,000 have returned home to Ethiopia since 1993 - including 1,000 returns during 2000 - leaving an estimated 25,000 Ethiopian refugees in Sudan at the end of the year.

Beginning in March 2000, most Ethiopian refugees in Sudan no longer received automatic refugee status. UNHCR stated that conditions in Ethiopia had improved since 1991, and therefore it declared a "cessation" of refugee status for Ethiopians who arrived in Sudan prior to 1991.

The year 2000 was a transition period, as some refugees awaited a problem-filled repatriation program, others sought to remain in Sudan as non-refugees, and still others attempted to maintain refugee status through individual asylum claims. A screening program began in November for some 3,000 Ethiopians who requested individual refugee status.

About 15,000 refugees requested assistance to return to Ethiopia. Only 1,000 managed to repatriate by year's end because of delays caused by the Ethiopia-Eritrea war and landmines in returnee areas.

As the year ended, about 12,000 Ethiopian refugees continued to reside in designated camps. Others lived on their own in urban areas.

Refugees from Other Countries

Nearly 5,000 Chadian refugees remained in western Sudan. They fled their country years ago and have assimilated into local Sudanese communities, where they did not require assistance. Many have expressed a desire to repatriate; an unknown number might have done so during 2000. A planned UNHCR assessment trip to the refugees' remote location was cancelled by government travel restrictions during the year.

Many of the estimated 5,000 Ugandan refugees have lived in southern Sudan for 20 years or more. UNHCR had no contact with the refugees.

USCR Actions

The U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) conducted two site visits to southern and eastern Sudan during the year.

USCR established a reporting network to monitor aerial bombings by Sudanese government planes against civilian and humanitarian targets during 2000. USCR research found that at least 167 aerial bombings occurred - two-and-a-half times the number of attacks that occurred in previous years.

In January, USCR hosted a public briefing to review development needs in southern Sudan. In March, USCR publicly urged a strong U.S. government response in the aftermath of a Sudanese government aerial attack that killed 14 school children in the Nuba Mountains region. In May, USCR warned of a pending attack by the Sudanese government military against an Islamic holy city in eastern Sudan and urged combatants to declare the city a "neutral zone."

In August, USCR reported on intensified aerial attacks by the Sudanese military against civilian targets and urged the international community to issue a forceful condemnation. "These bombings are clearly deliberate," USCR stated. "The Sudanese government is targeting southern Sudanese civilians and relief workers who seek to save the lives of those civilians."

In a separate August statement, USCR warned that international relief efforts in Sudan were in disarray caused by poor management, lack of international political support, and restrictions by Sudanese officials against aid programs. USCR warned that Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) "faces some of the most serious threats in its 11-year history."

Another USCR analysis in August stated that "serious concerns remain about whether the UN's OLS can survive much longer in the face of the Sudanese government's persistent strategy of deliberate aerial bombings, aid blockages, bureaucratic restrictions, and broken promises."

USCR warned that "it is only a matter of time before Sudanese officials take another round of steps to disrupt or irreparably cripple" relief efforts.

In an August letter to the UN secretary general, USCR urged an immediate review of relief programs "to help assure maximum feasible protection to [relief] workers, consistent with not abandoning the vulnerable Sudanese civilians they serve."

As bombings continued in September, USCR charged that "top officials in the U.S. government, in the United Nations, and in Europe treat these bombings as if they are business as usual, as if these are trifling matters that kill unimportant people and violate unimportant international standards."

USCR testified to the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in September and urged U.S. officials to strengthen human rights monitoring in Sudan, protect international relief efforts from Sudanese government restrictions, and provide greater support for grassroots reconciliation programs to dampen ethnic hostilities in southern Sudan. "By virtually any measurement, the human rights and humanitarian situation in Sudan is cataclysmic," USCR told Congress. "The people of southern Sudan have reason to feel abandoned by the international community."

In October, USCR issued a fact sheet summarizing the grim humanitarian and human rights situation in Sudan. USCR praised the U.S. government for defeating the Sudanese government's bid for a seat on the UN Security Council. "The government of Sudan is viciously breaching every human rights and humanitarian standard for which the UN stands. The Sudanese government even engaged in bombing a civilian target in south Sudan on the day the UN vote occurred. Its electoral defeat in the UN General Assembly should be welcomed by all who value the United Nations and the principles it is supposed to embody," USCR stated.

At a press conference on Sudan at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial in November, USCR criticized the American media for "journalistic irresponsibility" because of their failure to report regularly on the emergency in Sudan. "The media," USCR stated, "have ignored the human deaths in Sudan as if the people there are human garbage." In a separate analysis in November, USCR revealed that aerial bombings in Sudan were almost twice as frequent during 2000 as previously realized.

In December, USCR urged that Sudan be suspended from the United Nations "for its continuing, egregious violations of international law and of the UN charter. If a government doing such things can remain in good standing within the UN system, then UN membership is cheapened and morally meaningless."

USCR successfully urged U.S. officials to maintain financial support for hospitals and health clinics in southern Sudan that were on the brink of closure because of inadequate funding.

Copyright 2001, USCR