Children and adults are reportedly being attacked in vast numbers in worsening violence in the Darfur region of Sudan, as Save the Children urgently calls on parties to agree to an immediate cessation of hostilities after nearly three months of conflict.
Recent eyewitness accounts from West Darfur paint a terrifying picture of children, men and women being killed in scores, with armed gunmen entering villages, pillaging and burning houses, and firing on fleeing residents.
Save the Children staff fleeing the city of Geneina reported seeing the bodies of hundreds of people – including children – left abandoned along the road, covered in flies. Staff said there appeared to be no differentiation between the ages or gender of the victims, with children, women and men all among the dead.
Ahmed*, who works for Save the Children in West Darfur, recently escaped the violence and is now taking refuge in Kassala state. Ahmed said:
“We spent 49 days indoors as outside the snipers did not stop. Our only wish was to get up in the early morning hours to get one jerry can of water before the fighting starts again. When we finally managed to leave there were bodies everywhere on the ground in Geneina town. There were thousands of men, women and children, no one was spared. There are flies everywhere.
“Community leaders estimated that over 5,000 people have been killed. Four more schools have been looted and burned to the ground in Geneina. There are no more civilians left, only soldiers – everyone else has escaped or died. The road was very difficult. We encountered dozens of check points on the way. The bus driver had to pay more than 1 million SDG (US$1,660) to get us through.
“We are now in a safe area finally. All members of my family and our staff are safe. All I can think of is that people need urgent support right now.”
Summary executions and the targeting of civilians on the road between Geneina and the border have been described. In one report, 20 children were claimed to have been murdered in a town in West Darfur.
In another attack on a town in West Darfur in May, documented by Human Rights Watch, at least 40 civilians were killed and 14 civilians injured, including five women and four children. Child survivors had to witness the brutal murders and armed men then pillaged and burned most of the town, forcing thousands of residents to flee across the border to Chad.
In South Darfur, 30 civilians were killed and 45 injured between 23 and 27 June in clashes in Nyala town, according to the Sudanese government.
Across Darfur, the increase in violence has significantly restricted humanitarian access. More than 3.1 million people have been displaced since violence escalated in April, according to the UN, including over 700,000 who fled to neighbouring countries.
Widespread destruction and razing of civilian structures in Genenia has also been documented, with schools targeted and destroyed and at least 0.7 square kms is affected or burned by fire – almost double the area of the world’s smallest country, Vatican City.
Arif Noor, Save the Children’s Country Director in Sudan, said it was essential that countries continue to keep their borders open to receive those seeking refuge and that mechanisms are in place to ensure children and their families on both sides of borders are receiving the support needed.
“The world says “never again” and yet the killings taking place in Darfur are grimly reminiscent of the murder on a mass scale the world witnessed two decades ago. We are concerned for the wellbeing of everyone living in the path of these murderous mobs – in some parts of the region, it is completely lawless.
“Without strong action from the international community, including the opening of cross border humanitarian assistance, such as from Chad to West and Central Darfur, we may well see the situation deteriorate further. We cannot let this happen. The world must not let this happen.
“For children fleeing to neighbouring countries, it is essential that their families can swiftly reach essential services including health, education and child protection facilities.”
The fighting comes as Sudan was already facing its worst ever humanitarian crisis with existing conflict, natural disasters, disease outbreaks and economic degradation leaving 15.8 million people in need – or one third of the population.
Save the Children has worked in Sudan since 1983 supporting children and families affected by conflict, displacement, extreme poverty, hunger and a lack of basic services. Many of the children and families we serve are among the most vulnerable and hardest to reach.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Save the Children.