Kosti, Sudan. Since April 2023, many civilians have been displaced because of civil conflict that erupted in different parts of Sudan between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The ongoing conflict continues to fuel a humanitarian crisis within and across Sudan’s borders. In June 2023, UNHCR reported that approximately 24.7 million people (more than half of them children) needed humanitarian aid and protection. It also reported that nearly 1.7 million people have been displaced within Sudan, while about half a million refugees, asylum-seekers, and refugee returnees have sought safety in neighbouring countries amid the violence, which includes worrying reports of ethnic killings in West Darfur.
Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus has maintained a long legacy of working with displaced and disadvantaged populations in Sudan and is currently assisting in humanitarian efforts in Kosti and El Obeid regions of Sudan. In April and May 2023, we were able (with the help of various partners) to successfully evacuate seven elderly or sick Sisters who have been serving in Sudan (read more). However, four Sisters remained behind to continue serving their pastoral communities in Kosti and El Obeid, Sudan. Sr Rita recently caught up with two of our Sisters serving in the Pastoral Region of Kosti for an update about their welfare and the situation in the camps and this was their message.
“We send to you our sincere greetings from the refugee camps in the Pastoral Region of Kosti. These are refugee camps that are situated in the White Nile State around the Jaballain area. That is about 80 km South of Kosti Town in Sudan. Initially, there were only seven camps that were erected to host refugees who fled the 2013 civil conflict in neighbouring South Sudan. However, this has increased to 11 because of the ongoing conflict in the country. The population in the eleven camps is estimated at about 700,000, with 90,000 living in various towns of the White Nile State. Each camp hosts approximately 9,000 – 16,000 families. These camps are on both sides of the River Nile. Seven are on the Western bank of the Nile (Jorry, Kashafa, Redais-1, Redais-2, Umm –Sungor, Khor Waral, and Gemeyia), while four are on the East bank of the Nile (Alagaya, Imtidate, Bosum, and Gana). The Church has a small presence in Kosti although we serve a large population. We have a Diocesan Priest and two Sisters from the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We render our humble service as a team with some lay men and women. In each camp, there is a Chapel taken care of by three Catechists. The chapel in largest camp (Khor Waral) has six catechists. We have been teaching adult and children catechesis, visiting families and the sick within their shelters and in health centers within the camps, offering spiritual counseling, conducting funeral and thanksgiving prayers, carrying out vocation animation among youth to list but a few of our pastoral activities. Periodically, we also carry out programs like family workshops, youth workshops where we cover topics such as trauma healing. We also run a supplementary feeding program for children as many of them suffer from malnutrition caused by lack of food. We carry out these mentioned activities in small ways due to limited funds. However, we continue to offer them our faith, listen to them with patience, encourage and give them hope, and assure them of God’s presence, his love, care, and protection over them.
The humanitarian situation in these camps continues to deteriorate as there has been a huge influx of displaced civilians seeking refuge in the camps. On 26th April 2023, a state of emergency was declared in the White Nile State as local authorities were concerned about the situation in Rabak and Kosti areas following the significant increase in civilian migration from Khartoum to the state. Many of these refugees and displaced people lack essential necessities and face numerous challenges. They are often forbidden from collecting firewood and going to fetch drinking water from River Nile. Women in the camps risk a lot. Despite the restrictions, they go fetch water from the Nile which can be an hour’s walk from some camps. On their way, they are sometimes beaten and even at times raped by the local inhabitants. Those who go to work in the fields return to the camps unpaid after months of hard work. Life is very difficult for the poor refugees and displaced as they face many challenges and a lot of sufferings. Despite all these sufferings, they have learned to share the little they have, remain strong in their faith, and always hopeful for a better future, praying and eagerly waiting for the return of lasting peace so that they can go back home and rebuild their lives.
Many families in the camps are split because of the war. They lost their properties and are reduced to being dependent on local NGOs for everything. The families live in makeshift plastic sheet shelters. They suffer heat during the hot season and cold during the cold season. The initial refugee families from South Sudan were provided with plastic sheets and wood to erect a makeshift shelter when they arrived in 2014. Time and weather conditions have completely worn-out the plastic sheets as no further assistance has been given. Now, it is the rainy season, many families suffer especially when the rain falls during the night. The dilapidated shelters force families to stay awake at night because the leaking plastic sheets do not give them dry shelter. They don’t have blankets, and many suffer from malaria because they lack mosquito nets. This is especially the case among the elderly and people with disabilities. Some of the elderly and disabled live very miserable lives in the camps because they stay alone and don’t have families to care for them. Others are lucky to have neighbours who help them. We wish to uphold the dignity of these vulnerable people by providing them with plastic sheets for shelter and other non-food items to make their life in the camps bearable.
The health situation in the camps has worsened as the medical needs of displaced populations overwhelm the capacity of available health facilities. In each camp, there is a small health center run by a local NGO. However, the pharmacies at these health centres are understocked forcing patients to buy medicine from private clinics and private pharmacies which are very expensive. Many women, especially those who are pregnant and lactating, are enduring difficulties in the camps. Many suffer from anemia due to lack of proper feeding. Some experience excessive bleeding while others miscarry due to the difficult life situation in the camps. These last months have seen a high death rate among infants due to an outbreak of measles that infected many children. We are losing 10 to 15 children in a day in some of the camps. There is also a high death rate among elderly men and women due to lack of money to buy medicine and improper feeding. The cost of essential drugs and treatments is very high as such many refugees and dispaced people cannot effort. Our wish is also to help sick vulnerable people (children, women, elderly women, and men, the blind, and the disabled) to access medicine once they receive their prescriptions for the health facility. Supporting them to finance surgeries may not be within our capability for now as these procedures are done in Kosti town and Rabak and are very expensive. One procedure can cost about 600 USD. The MSF (Doctors without Borders) health center, before closing at the end of 2019, had good facilities. However, it was still not within the reach of other camps situated far from the Kashafa Camp. Despite the distance we can say that the medical situation was far better because a good number of essential medicines were available, and the sick could be rescued if they reached the MSF medical center in good time.
Reliable means of transportation is difficult to find in the refugee camps. Many times, we must walk for about three hours to reach other camps for our pastoral activities. This distance makes following up the condition of sick patients (especially the vulnerable; blind, elderly, disabled, and orphans) particularly difficult. The refugee and displaced populations in these camps are in urgent need of food, medicine, and shelter. Our concerns and wishes are to be able to support at least 200 households in each camp.”
Situation of our sisters in El Obeid
Communication with the two Sisters in El Obeid has been particularly difficult as mobile network is unreliable. Recently, Sr Rita was able to get through. The two sisters are safe. However, there is no electricity and water and the mobile network is very poor. Fighting around Khartoum and other places in the Country.
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About SHS in Sudan
Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, also referred to as Sacred Heart Sisters (SHS), was established in Sudan in 1954 as an indigenous African religious mission of Catholic women of Diocesan rite by the late Bishop Sisto Mazzoldi an Italian Comboni missionary who worked in the mission territories of Sudan and Uganda. It is the oldest institute of religious women in the territories of Sudan and South Sudan and is among the first institutes established in the East Africa region. Established in a war-torn country, SHS members have always lived among the refugees who they moved with (into Northern Uganda) from the time foreign Christian missionaries were exiled from Sudan in 1964. In 1988 civil war broke out in Northern Uganda where the missionaries had sought refuge. This civil conflict was instigated by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The wars that ravaged both Sudan, Northern Uganda and later South Sudan has had a devastating impact on the Institute. However, through the wars SHS has remained resilient in its operations in Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda (where it has its largest operations) and later expanding into Kenya to respond to the needs of refugees, children, women people with disabilities, orphans, youth, and also young women who still live with the traumas of the different wars and the atrocities experienced during the civil unrest in Northern Uganda.