The Middle East and several African regions are home to the world’s most disastrous humanitarian crises.
A senior United Nations official has warned of escalating humanitarian crises across the region, shedding light on raging wars in Sudan and Palestine where the death toll has continued to mount and millions have been forced into displacement.
Speaking to Doha News, Ahmed Mohsen, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative to Qatar said the agency is committed to facilitating strategic interventions in Sudan as the war rages into its sixth month.
“The region is grappling with a rapidly escalating humanitarian situation. Nearly 6 million individuals have been forcibly displaced due to the ongoing conflict in Sudan, including more than 1 million people who have crossed international borders, signaling one of the most acute protection crises we’ve seen in recent times,” Mohsen told Doha News.
“However, our commitment remains unwavering: we stay and deliver,” Mohsen added.
The months-long conflict between army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his former deputy, Rapid Support Forces (RSF) commander Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, has devastated Khartoum and other major cities around the country, leading to an estimated death toll of at least 9,000 people and displacing 4.3 million people.
Sudanese parties and officials have scrambled for an end to the war after more than 10 ceasefire attempts failed to temporarily halt the fighting though no breakthrough has yet been made.
To address the massive exodus of four million civilians from the capital, the UNHCR official confirmed an on-the-ground presence with the establishment of an office in Port Sudan.
“We’ve further reinforced our on-ground presence and have established a representation office in Port Sudan (Red Sea State). Our operations in White Nile, Gedaref, Kassala (including Girba), and Blue Nile remain steadfast, ensuring continuous protection and aid delivery despite Sudan’s conflict,” Mohsen said.
The official said new operational centres have also been set up in Wadi Halfa in the Northern State and WadMadani in the Jazirah State, where thousands of civilians have sought refuge.
“Beyond Sudan’s borders, UNHCR has initiated a hub in Farchana, Chad, to address the Darfur situation and established a back office in Nairobi, Kenya, for remote support,” Mohsen added.
With the war in Sudan compounding record levels of humanitarian need, Mohsen has said there are several challenges that the UNHCR is navigating through that include safety, security concerns and funding gaps.
“Countries neighbouring Sudan impacted by this new emergency were already hosting large refugee, migrant, and internally displaced populations before the crisis. Humanitarian programmes in these countries remain severely underfunded,” Mohsen said, addressing the efforts of Ethiopia, South Sudan, Chad, and Egypt.
“Hosting governments, who have taken the lead in responding to this crisis, need additional support to provide protection and critical life-saving assistance,” Mohsen added in his statement to Doha News.
He said an increase in required resources for civilians in Sudan has blown a dent in the finances of the organisation which has now been forced to depend on other sources for assistance.
“Given that the financial requirements for the response have risen sharply from an initial USD 445 million to a significant USD 1 billion for this fiscal year, UNHCR is intensively engaging with partners, donor communities, and international stakeholders to rally essential financial support,” the representative said.
Despite the financial obstacles, the UNHCR has operations in place to prepare for such situations. Mohsen said the agency is able to mobilise supplies and staff to aid 1 million people within days.
“While the depth of displacement crises is profoundly affecting, at UNHCR, we are always prepared to respond to emergencies and situations. Within a 72-hour window, UNHCR has the capacity to mobilise supplies to aid 1 million people and deploy specialised staff to protect people forced to flee,” the official voiced.
The Sudan Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRP), which the UNHCR drew up to determine the needs of a specific refugee population, takes into account specific factors to detail measures on the ground.
These include support for host countries to ensure access to territory and asylum for all individuals in need of international protection and to provide timely and life-saving protection and humanitarian assistance for all those fleeing Sudan, “with a special focus on the most vulnerable and those most at risk”, Mohsen added.
The UNHCR also identifies persons with specific protection needs and in vulnerable situations and provides specialised protection intervention and other services. The organisation also supports neighbouring countries to ensure access to their territory for third-country nationals, and assist them with contacting respective consular authorities to enable them to return home to their respective countries of origin,” he added.
Calls for peace in the Israeli-Gaza war
Meanwhile, while the UNHCR has no mandate in Palestine, Mohsen said the global body was alarmed by the ongoing escalations that have so far killed nearly 1,000 Palestinians, many of which children.
“We are alarmed by the rapidly escalating conflict in Israel, Gaza, and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The situation remains complex and highly fluid,” he said.
“We join the Secretary-General and fellow UN agencies in expressing alarm at the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Gaza and echo their calls for access to humanitarian aid and protection,” Mohsen said.
The UNHCR is currently working to distribute essentials needs to help those in Gaza through coordination with the Egyptian Red Crescent.
“UNHCR is supporting the overall UN effort to provide much-needed support to Gaza through the Egyptian Red Crescent. UNHCR will be supporting with bottled water, blankets, mattresses, rubhalls, jerrycans, hygiene kits, and clothing items,” Mohsen told Doha News.
Mohsen pointed to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) as the main body that works in Palestine, where 81 employees have been killed during the start of the current war.
UNRWA has confirmed that around 670,000 individuals are taking shelter in almost 150 of its congested facilities spread across Gaza. Last week, the body’s chief warned that the scale of the tragedy in the besieged Gaza Strip has reached “unprecedented” levels.
Philippe Lazzarini, the Commissioner-General UNRWA said he faced “one of the saddest days in my humanitarian work” during his first trip to the enclave.
“The levels of distress and the unsanitary living conditions were beyond comprehension. Everyone was just asking for water and food,” he said, describing the grim conditions after nearly a months-long brutal Israeli war on Gaza.
During his trip, Lazzarini paid a visit to a school that had become a sanctuary for thousands of Palestinians seeking refuge from the Israeli bombing campaign.
In a statement, the UN agency joined global calls for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, labelling it “a matter of life and death”. However, Lazzarini said such calls have appeared to be “falling on deaf ears. A humanitarian ceasefire is long overdue.”
“Without it, more people will be killed, those who are alive will endure further losses, and the once vibrant society will be in grief, forever,” he added. Despite this, he vowed to “continue to stand with Palestine Refugees and the rest of the Palestinian communities.”
Despite the targeted Israeli killing of the UN workers, Mohsen said all parties, without naming Israel, need to adhere to International Humanitarian Law.
“Sister UN agencies who are in Gaza speak of dire needs and catastrophic consequences if aid is not delivered. UNHCR urgently calls on all parties involved to exercise maximum restraint. It is imperative to adhere to International Humanitarian Law, especially the principles of distinction and proportionality, to ensure the safety and protection of civilians and vital infrastructure,” Mohsen said.
“This conflict not only threatens to destabilise an already tense region but also signifies a perilous upswing in global crises. If left unchecked, such escalations could gravely jeopardise world peace.”
So far, Israel has killed at least 9,922 Palestinians, including 4,008 children since it launched it brutal war nearly one month ago. More than 1 million Palestinians have also been forcibly displaced.
Israel has been accused of ethnically cleanse Gaza through its latest bombardment campaign, in which it has called for the forced displacement of the native population into neighbouring Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.