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Rich countries have to look beyond their own borders, says U.N. high commissioner

In an joint press conference with U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi stressed the need for additional support from other countries in the effort to address the humanitarian crisis in Sudan.
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AFP via Getty Images
In an joint press conference with U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi stressed the need for additional support from other countries in the effort to address the humanitarian crisis in Sudan.

N'DJAMENA, CHAD - The humanitarian crisis in Sudan, which has spread to many of its neighbors, could worsen before the end of the year if the international community fails to step up its response, says U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

Grandi, who last week toured a makeshift refugee camp in eastern Chad near the country's border with Sudan, described the situation as a "big emergency" that will strain the resources of Chad and many other countries in the region.

"Chad has already received 400,000 refugees from Sudan [since April]," he said in an interview with NPR's Morning Edition in Chad's capital of N'Djamena.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expects this number to increase to over 600,000 by the end of the year — and that's just in Chad alone. Overall, the renewed conflict in Sudan that erupted in mid-April between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese Armed Forces has displaced millions of people within the northeast African nation, including nearly 1 million who have fled to neighboring countries.

This dire situation has been further exacerbated by climate change, food insecurity and the persistence of poverty within the region.

But the international response to this crisis has been underwhelming at best. Less than 30% of the 2023 Sudan Humanitarian Response Plan, which calls for more than $2.5 billion, has been funded.

"There is fatigue. There are too many humanitarian crises," Grandi said. "COVID and Ukraine have absorbed a great deal of resources. And let me be very clear, I'm not criticizing the fact that those crises needed a response – and actually, Ukraine continues to need a response. But the fact is that public spending has gone through the roof, and unfortunately, when it comes to cutting public spending, overseas aid is often the first victim."

The United States is the largest single donor to the Sudan response efforts. Just last week, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, announced nearly $163 million in additional humanitarian assistance, bringing Washington's total commitment during fiscal year 2023 to almost $710 million.

But as Thomas-Greenfield and Grandi stressed multiple times during a joint press conference, the U.S. can't do it alone. And Grandi warned other countries that a failure to address the root causes of displacement and migration will sooner or later affect them directly.

"This issue of people on the move, be they refugees or economic migrants or people moving because of climate factors and so forth, cannot become a visible crisis only when they reach the borders of rich countries, be it the United States or the European countries. If you don't address everything upstream, you will continue [to see the same pattern] because movement is inevitable in the present circumstances," he said. "I keep telling rich countries, stop looking only at your border. This is so shortsighted."

The World Bank last week urged for more international support and announced an additional $340 million in new financing to Chad to help the country address the current challenges, which includes the surge of refugees along its eastern border.

Chad and other countries have seen this before, as fighting in Sudan's Darfur region over 20 years ago forced millions into refugee camps across Africa. Grandi said the current humanitarian "catastrophe" presents an opportunity to remedy the mistakes of the past.

He specifically pointed out that the U.N., NGOs and others failed to invest in the development of the region that goes beyond the immediate needs of refugees during a crisis.

"Let us try to do the right thing. And let's try to use the resources, not only to give shelter, medicine and food, but also so kids can go to school and do it also for the Chadians because that's one of the poorest parts of the poor country," Grandi said in reference to the the eastern region of Chad along its border with Sudan.

The war in Sudan has killed at least 4,000 people, according to figures from the U.N. But the actual death toll is expected to be much higher.

The radio version of this story was produced by Milton Guevara and edited by H.J. Mai. The digital version of this story was edited by Treye Green.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: September 15, 2023 at 12:00 AM EDT
An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed the expected number of refugees to cross into Chad by the end of this year to the U.N. Human Rights Council. In fact, it's the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that projects that over 600,000 refugees will arrive in Chad this year.
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