From the mission field: Malnutrition killing 13 children a day at refugee camp in Sudan


NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Thirteen children are dying each day of severe malnutrition at the Zamzam camp in Sudan's northern Darfur as a consequence of the 10-month war in their country, a medical charity said Monday.

The head of the U.N. refugee agency, meanwhile, warned that Europe may have to deal with a rise in the numbers of Sudanese refugees if a cease-fire agreement isn't signed soon between Sudan's warring sides and relief efforts aren't strengthened.

One child is dying every two hours in the camp, according to Claire Nicolet, head of emergency response in Sudan for Doctors without Borders.

“Those with severe malnutrition who have not yet died are at high risk of dying within three to six weeks if they do not get treatment,” Nicolet said.

The organization  says that Zamzam, a camp of more than 300,000 people, was originally formed by people fleeing ethnically targeted violence in the region in 2003. However, since war broke out between Sudan’s military and paramilitary forces in April 2023, camp residents have been cut off from vital humanitarian aid and medical care, the group said in a statement.

U.N. agencies and international aid organizations evacuated North Darfur after the war began in April, and have maintained only a limited presence since then.

“Now, they have been almost completely abandoned. There have been no food distributions from the World Food Program since May. People are going hungry — and children are dying as a result,” Nicolet said.

Doctors without Borders said that it would rapidly increase the scale of assistance at the camp to provide treatment for children in the most critical condition. However, the scale of the disaster requires a far greater response than the organization can provide alone.

The head of the U.N. refugee agency said that without additional support, refugees from Sudan will attempt to make their way to Europe.

“The Europeans are always so worried about people coming across the Mediterranean. Well, I have a warning for them that if they don't support more refugees coming out of Sudan, even displaced people inside Sudan, we will see onward movements of people towards Libya, Tunisia and across the Mediterranean,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said. ”There is no doubt."

More than 9 million people are thought to be internally displaced in Sudan, and 1.5 million refugees have fled into neighboring countries in 10 months of clashes between the Sudanese military, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces, a powerful paramilitary group commanded by Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo.

The conflict erupted last April in the capital, Khartoum, and quickly spread to other areas of the country.

Grandi said several countries neighboring Sudan — Chad, Central African Republic, South Sudan and Ethiopia — have their own “fragilities” and will be unable to give refugees enough assistance.

He said that refugees will move further toward northern countries like Tunisia, where some have been documented planning to cross to Europe.

“When refugees go out and they don’t receive enough assistance, they go further,” Grandi said.

He said the war in Sudan is becoming fragmented, with a number of militias controlling areas.

“Militias have even less hesitation to perpetrate abuse on civilians,” he said, suggesting that it would create even more displacement.

Grandi also said conflicts in places like Sudan, Congo, Afghanistan and Myanmar shouldn't be overlooked during the wars in Ukraine and Gaza.

“Gaza is a tragedy, it needs a lot of attention and resources, but it cannot be at the expense of another big crisis like Sudan,” he said.

Grandi spoke a day after visiting Sudan and Ethiopia, which is recovering from a two-year conflict in its northern Tigray region.

The United Nations says at least 12,000 people have been killed in Sudan's conflict, although local doctors groups say the true toll is far higher.

Dagalo’s paramilitary forces appear to have had the upper hand over the past three months, with their fighters advancing to the east and north across Sudan’s central belt. Both sides have been accused of war crimes by rights groups.

Regional partners in Africa have been trying to mediate an end to the conflict, along with Saudi Arabia and the United States, which facilitated several rounds of unsuccessful, indirect talks between the warring parties. Burhan and Dagalo are yet to meet in person since the conflict began.