Children fleeing the violence in Sudan are arriving in South Sudan and Egypt showing signs of acute distress and shock with some withdrawn, others angry and some becoming aggressive, said Save the Children.
Since fighting started on 15 April, more than 700,000 people have fled their homes in Sudan which was already facing its worst ever humanitarian crisis due to the collision of conflict, natural disasters, disease outbreaks and economic degradation and one third of the population needing assistance.
Over the past month, more than 150,000 people have crossed into Egypt, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Chad, according to the UN, with reports of long waits at the crossings, limited food, water and sanitation facilities.
Save the Children teams are providing mental health and psychosocial support and well as essential supplies to families arriving at border points in South Sudan and Egypt, some of whom have spent up to 15 days on perilous and costly journeys to seek safety.
At Renk on South Sudan’s northeastern border with Sudan, Save the Children is providing food and helping to trace families and reunify children separated from their families.
Up to 45,000 people are reported to have fled into South Sudan from Sudan, some returnees who had left South Sudan previously to escape conflict.
Micah Yakani, a Save the Children South Sudan Child and Youth Protection Coordinator, said many children were very stressed when they arrived and warned of an increase in hunger and malnutrition due to food shortages at the crossing point.
“Children are very stressed This is seen through unusual behaviour such as fighting each other while some are withdrawn and stay alone. Adolescent children are also manifesting violent behaviours such as anger, desperation, talking aggressively.
“The hot meals being provided at the transit centres are not enough for everyone and many families are going without food. We’re also seeing sign of trauma among children as most of the families are staying under the hot sun with no shade or shelter. The few shades we have cannot accommodate everyone.
“Water shortages are leading to violent commotions between women at the transit center and we fear the situation might get worse as the transit centre is completely full and many families are sheltering by the road side.”
At least 60,000 people have fled into Egypt from Sudan, with most families reaching Wadi Karkar, a bus station near Aswan in southern Egypt where Save the Children is supporting refugees before they move onto other locations in the country.
Laila Toema, Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Technical Advisor at Save the Children Egypt, said:
“Families spend two to three hours at the bus stop. During this time, we try to create safe spaces for children to play and organise activities to help parents manage the stress.
“In the first week, we have provided mental health support to about 127 children and caregivers. The families we meet have often gathered only a few belongings before fleeing. They need nappies, food, water. The wait can last a few hours, it often gets very hot, and most children are tired. Some of them show signs of acute distress, or anxiety. One of the mothers, for example, refused to let her child come off the bus to join our child-friendly space, fearing for her child’s safety.
“We get different reactions from children. Some of them are still in shock, others express anxiety and many parents seem to be in shock and refuse to think of themselves as ‘displaced’.”
With its partner Egyptian Red Crescent, Save the Children has distributed food parcels to 10,000 people at the border, 1,000 first aid kits and 4,000 hygiene kits containing essential toiletries and sanitation items. They have also distributed 2,000 bags for psychological support activities for children which include games and activities.
Ahmed Adel, a Save the Children Egypt Mental Health and Psychosocial support Facilitator, said:
“We hear a lot of stories during these activities, especially from children. For example, they tell us that they associate noise to shootings and explosions that happened near them, when they were in Sudan.
“A child told me he was anxious because members of his families were not around during these events. He also told me that his sister is a university student, and her friends were shot dead, and that he lost some family members.”
Save the Children is calling on the international community to commit the funding and resources to prepare for a large-scale response to meet critical needs both in Sudan and in neighbouring countries, including to local and national organisations providing frontline response.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Save the Children.