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Over 60,000 refugees from Sudan have fled the violence and entered Chad

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Fighting has intensified in Sudan, including in the capital, Khartoum - this despite an agreement between the two warring sides to open up humanitarian corridors. The humanitarian situation there is actually getting worse. Many of the people trying to escape the fighting have fled over the border to neighboring Chad. Our Africa correspondent Emmanuel Akinwotu joins us now. Good morning, Emmanuel.

EMMANUEL AKINWOTU, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: What are you seeing at the border?

AKINWOTU: So I'm currently in Farchana. It's a remote town in Chad, very close to the border with Sudan. And I've been traveling with U.N. agencies, going back and forth to the border, where there are about 60,000 Sudanese refugees right now. About half of them arrived within the last week, most of them from Darfur. That's a region in Sudan that was devastated by the war 20 years ago. And they're coming in every day on foot or on their donkeys. It's about a 5-to-10-kilometer journey across the border. And as you can imagine, the situation there is so tough. Many people I spoke to witnessed or escaped attacks, extreme violence. You know, we heard stories of massacres by armed groups there. Many people left their families behind or have been separated from them and lost contact because the phone signals are dead. There have been cases of children crossing alone without their parents. There was one case of a child who came alone with their baby sibling, you know, so just a very desperate situation.

RASCOE: My goodness. So how difficult is it then for humanitarian organizations to get access to the border, to try to help?

AKINWOTU: It's really not easy. You know, this is an extremely dry, desertlike region. It's part of the Sahel. The drives are long, very difficult routes. We've been guided by army escorts from the Chadian army. And yesterday, some of the vehicles in our convoy actually got stuck in the sand. We saw another truck with aid equipment which was stuck in the sand, too. And, you know, the fear is that this is going to get worse as the rainy season approaches. You know, there have been flash rains in the last few days, and the rain's going to make these routes even harder to navigate. There's really a race against time to move these refugees to more established camps. And, you know, of course, there were already about 400,000 Sudanese refugees in Chad before this conflict even started. And yesterday I spoke to Eujin Byun. She is from the U.N.'s refugee agency, and she helped to explain the pressures on Chad and aid agencies who are trying to support them.

EUJIN BYUN: As the number increase up to 60,000, 70,000, if there is no additional funding, additional support from international community, it's almost impossible to manage these refugees to a safe place and then provide assistance.

RASCOE: So where do the people that you're talking to see this conflict headed next?

AKINWOTU: Well, there are two sides to this conflict - the Sudanese army and this powerful paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces. They're currently in talks that are due to resume in Saudi Arabia. But the talks have been going on for over a week. And this latest cease-fire they've agreed has again unraveled. You know, this conflict is happening in an extremely volatile region. There were fears that this conflict could draw in actors from around Sudan's borders. We've heard reports from diplomats that that's already happening. And they say that Chad-based militias are already active in Sudan, fighting alongside the RSF. And NGOs fear that the numbers arriving in Chad could exceed 100,000 within just the next few days and weeks.

RASCOE: NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu on the Chad-Sudan border, thank you very much for joining us.

AKINWOTU: Thanks, Ayesha.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Emmanuel Akinwotu