Tens of thousands of Sudanese are fleeing the civil war into Chad, where hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees who fled Darfur over the past 20 years already reside.
Since April 15, 2023, in Sudan, from violent clashes oppose the forces of the regular army, led by the leader of the junta, General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan, against the Rapid Support Forces (FSR), former paramilitary Arab Janjaweed (or Janjaweed) militias commanded by General Mahamat Hamdan Dagalo, aka Hemetti (sometimes spelled Hemedti).
All of this Janjaweed were set up in February 2003 as a counter-insurgency movement of nomadic Arab tribes during the terrible ethno-land crisis in Darfur which pitted them against the African populations of the region.
The RSF having made Darfur their rear base, the regular army forces undertook to arm the black communities there. Indeed, in Darfur, the RSF terrorize the local black populations; these in turn are armed by Khartoum to confront the RSF. This context encourages many inhabitants of Darfur to flee to neighboring Chad.
But twenty years ago, tens, even hundreds of thousands of refugees had already reached Chad; these people are still there to this day. The current influx of migrants propels this long, almost forgotten crisis into a new catastrophe, while the needs of “former refugees” remain far from being met. The depletion of scarce local resources aggravates the daily vulnerability of the host community and increases the risk of this conflict escalating.
Chad, the first victim of the Sudanese conflict
Sharing a 1 km border with Sudan, Chad is experiencing a exacerbation of the humanitarian crisis in the east of the country, where twelve refugee camps have been set up since 2003. The provinces of Sila, Ouaddai and Wadi Fira see thousands of people arriving daily. The consequences of this crisis are security, economic, environmental and political.
From a security perspective, Chad must secure its long border with Sudan. In economic matters, trade has faded, causing prices to soar, which accelerates the extreme fragility of host communities. The environment is under pressure, as is firewood, which remains the only source of energy available. And on the political level, Chad, in political transition, fears a potential transfer of the Sudanese conflict to its territory. In the main towns of eastern Chad, many families, already in great difficulty, welcome relatives from Sudan.
A Chadian-Sudanese crisis more severe than that of 2003
Compared to 2003, the current crisis is having unexpected economic repercussions on Chad. The first crisis did not prevent trade between the two countries, as eastern Chad is highly dependent on Sudan for the supply of basic necessities. The Sudanese pound is favored in commercial transactions.
On the other hand, the crisis of 2023 threatens to break the supply chain from Sudan. In 2003, the African Union Standby Mission (AMIS) had been deployed, alleviating the crisis before the arrival of the UNAMID (African Union – United Nations hybrid operation in Darfur), whose mandate ended on December 31, 2020, thus leaving the field open to all warring parties. Since then, mixed Chadian-Sudanese forces have devoted themselves to securing the common border, neglecting the protection of civilians inside Sudanese territory. The absence of a strong internal authority and an interposition force suggests a colossal influx of refugees on Chadian soil.
In six weeks of conflict, as of June 19, 2023, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had counted 115 displaced people, mostly women and children. On this date, the number of refugees estimated by the organization exceeded 150. The porosity of the border complicates the task of the various humanitarian actors, confronted with the difficulties linked to the rainy season, which risks exhausting the means of subsistence of the populations.
In this context, the danger of starvation within this population, already severely affected by acute child malnutrition, requires increased mobilization of all actors. Thousands of Sudanese, Chadians returning from Sudan and other migrants continue to cross the border. All the ingredients of a new humanitarian disaster seem united.
The international community withdrawing from the conflict
Faced with this tragedy, the international community is adopting a questionable spectator attitude, reflecting a habitual negligence that contrasts radically with the keen enthusiasm manifested for the war in Ukraine. The United Nations limits itself to convictions and assignments of special envoys.
Confining itself to passive diplomacy, the African Union (AU) is downgraded on the ground by Saudi Arabia, better listened to by the belligerents because of its capacity for material and financial support, as well as its multiple links with the belligerents in terms of culture, military training, etc.
Moreover, the AU adopts approaches that are difficult to read, such as the mediation mission which she drove on June 15, 2023 between Russia and Ukraine as Africans were massacred in Sudan.
The urgent need for humanitarian aid
The major challenge in setting up effective humanitarian aid is to mobilize the international community around the crisis. As a reminder, Chad already hosts more than 400 Sudanese refugees; yet their needs are not funded to the extent that they should be, far from it. Only 000% of the financing expected for Chad in 20 in the Humanitarian Response Plan implemented by the United Nations had been mobilized. The main humanitarian challenges revolve around three points: mobilization, protection and coordination.
In terms of mobilization, a financial commitment from donors is highly anticipated. In terms of protection, it is necessary, on the one hand, to protect people who have crossed the border from violence and to set up emergency shelters to accommodate refugees who find themselves in the middle of nature, vulnerable facing bad weather; on the other hand, to protect humanitarian actors. Finally, it is necessary to set up a coordination system between the various actors present on the ground (humanitarian organizations, international organizations, central and regional authorities in Chad, etc.) to enable them to optimize their actions.
Four hypotheses emerge today: 1) the continuation of the current confrontation, which will imply an acceleration of the various exactions; 2) a victory for the Sudanese armed forces, which would result in a withdrawal of the RSF into Darfur, over which Burhan's forces, above all concerned with securing Khartoum and its surroundings, would relinquish control to them; 3) a situation where the RSF would gain the upper hand – the Darfuris could then not count on the protection of the new central government; 4) The fourth hypothesis, less dramatic for these populations, is based on possible intervention by the international community, an option that seems remote for the time being despite the recent arrival in Chad of the assistant secretary of the United Nations.
The mass crimes committed in the context of the conflict are of such magnitude that the International Criminal Court was able, rightly, to seize the file. On the security front, a ceasefire followed by the deployment of an interposition force with a mandate must be imposed by the UN.
From a logistical point of view, the various emergency mechanisms must be quickly put into action in order to mobilize the funds necessary to guarantee humanitarian assistance. On the judicial level, and following the example of the current initiative of the ICC, the international criminal jurisdictions must take up the question in the face of violations of the conventions of international humanitarian law (International mechanism called upon to exercise the residual functions of criminal tribunals international – MICT-, hybrid jurisdictions, pre-judicial investigation mechanisms).
Finally, on the political level, an agenda for ending the crisis must be accompanied by a prior embargo of Sudan with regard to the circulation of arms.