On June 28, I arrived in Yusuf Batil, the fastest growing camp for refugees fleeing violence and starvation in Sudan. There are already over 24,000 refugees here from Blue Nile State and another 2,500 are due to be transferred. They are coming from the infamous “Kilo 18”, a transition camp described by one aid worker as “hell on earth”. Kilo 18 is named for its distance from the Jamam refugee camp, which is closest to the shared border between Sudan and South Sudan.
Just over two weeks ago Batil did not exist and refugees in Kilo 18 were facing emergency water shortages, with aid workers describing children dying along the road from dehydration and hunger.
In Batil, aid workers have been able to find more water than was available at Kilo 18 by digging deep bore holes into the earth. With access to water and a surge of international relief, the situation is improved since the camp opened. But still, the refugees I spoke with described a scarcity of food, water and much needed medicine. With the rainy season now in full effect, the rains are welcomed for the purposes of water and crops, but also make conditions in the flat camp extremely difficult.
“When it rains, we just stay here,” one refugee tells me, pointing to the loose-hanging tarp provided by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). But it is clear that the make-shift shelter will do little to keep surrounding water from seeping in. Malaria and cholera are constant threats.
“It’s really difficult,” an aid worker from Ireland tells me, “In one day there were four or five trucks stuck just in the camp.” This says nothing about the unpaved roads depended on to deliver further aid to the camps or the dirt runway used to deliver supplies by air. When stuck vehicles are finally pulled out, the aid worker tells me, they leave literally car sized pot holes, creating a challenge for additional vehicles that will be delivering aid when the roads finally do dry out.
The international aid community responded quickly to the crisis in Kilo 18 and Batil, averting further disaster. While the distribution of aid to families seeking refuge in South Sudan is imperative, the root cause of this suffering—attacks on civilians and blockage of aid by the Sudanese government—requires much more. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and his regime bear responsible and must be held accountable for their deadly actions. Judging by recent protests across Sudan, which are being followed by the people in and around the camps, a growing number of Sudanese are trying to do just that.