Australia urged to help as 14 million children facing 'forgotten' crisis

Inside the refugee camps it's the women and children who are suffering the most.

Despite mounting cost-of-living pressures, most of Australia’s 26 million people live relatively well. But across the Indian Ocean roughly the same number of people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Over 14 million of those affected are children. And four million of them are severely malnourished, according to Plan International. The numbers are staggering.

But with conflict raging in Ukraine and Gaza, the crisis in Sudan risks being forgotten. Aid groups are wanting to help but they need more resources, and with the country on the brink of collapse they have called on Australia’s government to invest $50 million to help save human lives.

A crowd of children at the Renk refugee camp staring at the camera.
Over 23,000 people are taking shelter in and around the Renk refugee camp in South Sudan. It was designed for just 4000. Source: Peter Caton/Plan International

The people are suffering from outbreaks of cholera, dengue, measles, and malaria. With much of Sudan's infrastructure destroyed, there are few places to seek treatment, and health care is no longer available to two thirds of the population.

What's life like for Sudanese inside refugee camps?

After landing in Australia this year after years of work in Africa, Plan International Australia Deputy CEO Mudasser Siddiqui told Yahoo News Australia the people he’s been working with are “traumatised”, particularly the women and children.

He was based across the southeast border in Ethiopia where millions face starvation there too. But despite its dangers, Ethiopia is seen as a safer option for many of the Sudanese who have been displaced by a year-long violent political conflict, and now face famine.

A malnourished child in the arms of his mother in South Sudan.
Over 14 million children urgently need aid. Source: Peter Caton/Plan International

Describing life inside the refugee camps, Siddiqui said most survivors are in despair.

"When you walk into the camps there is the smell of poverty and hunger. There are families crammed in very limited spaces, hygiene facilities were very few and far between, and water services were not there," he said.

"People arrived with absolutely nothing. And we couldn't continue to meet the needs of people to the level that was needed."

Plan International Australia Deputy CEO Mudasser Siddiqui at a refugee camp in Ethiopia. He wears a mask.
Plan International Australia Deputy CEO Mudasser Siddiqui (centre) at a refugee camp in Africa. Source: Supplied

He recalls the story of a 10-year-old girl who lived a life that would be familiar to many Aussies.

“She had a TV in her house and she used to watch cartoons, and she had access to her parents’ mobile phones. But now she was living in a refugee camp with her grandmother because her parents were killed in the conflict. She was sleeping on the floor on a matress provided by aid agencies,” he said.

“You can imagine her mental state. There are thousands of people like her throughout this conflict. And that’s the most important aspect that the world has forgotten.”

Sudanese Australians disturbed by unfolding crisis

On top of the violence, there's the extreme weather. South Sudan where thousands of refugees have fled, hotter than average weather has shaken the country — on one March day the temperature soared to 41 degrees. Climate change is making some areas around the Horn of Africa impossible to survive in.

Siddiqui said the Australian government has been “very generous” in helping to prevent famine, but more money is urgently needed.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong (right) and Anthony Albanese (left) at a cabinet meeting.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong (right) has been urged to find $50 million for Sudan. Source: AAP

On the one year anniversary of the conflict this week Plan International joined Oxfam, Save the Children, Unicef Australia and other high profile aid agencies to call on Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong to urgently send “additional humanitarian assistance .

“The Australian Sudanese diaspora population is approximately 13,000 people. This is a community that is watching their loved ones, friends and country tragically caught up in a devastating conflict, and who seek more action from their government here in Australia,” the letter reads.

“The $20.45 million commitment to date is welcome but does not go far enough.”

Yahoo reached out to Senator Wong’s office on Friday and questions were referred to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) which issued a written statement.

"The Australian Government remains deeply concerned by the conflict and the humanitarian impact on the people of Sudan and those in neighbouring countries," it said.

"The Australian Government has provided $20.45 million to the crisis since May 2023 to support people affected. In addition, in February 2024, the UN's Central Emergency Response Fund (to which Australia is a longstanding donor) announced two allocations to Sudan of US$15 million and US$20 million. We continue to monitor the situation."

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