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Sudan Conflict: Children Rescued From Orphanage in Khartoum

Nearly 300 orphans caught in the crossfire in Sudan’s capital have been rescued in a daring and dangerous evacuation by humanitarian workers.

The evacuations were carried out following the deaths of 67 children at the Mygoma orphanage in Khartoum.

They died of starvation, dehydration and infections as fighting prevented staff from reaching the orphanage.

Khartoum has been hit by daily air strikes and heavy clashes between rival forces since 15 April.

The orphanage is in an area that has been at the heart of the fighting between the military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

In a risky operation, 297 children – about 200 of them below the age of two years – were taken by road to the relative safety of Wad Madani, in the south of Sudan.

Another 95 children, both from the Mygoma orphanage and other smaller facilities across the capital, were evacuated over the weekend by a group of local activists.

The state-run Mygoma orphanage was home to about 400 children when the war broke out in April.

It became too dangerous for many doctors and carers to reach the orphanage to look after the children.

Power and water cuts made the sweltering temperatures, reaching as high as 43C, unbearable.

Children, especially the youngest ones, started dying.

“We are losing them so fast. In recent days, we lost three children,” Sudanese activist Sadeia al-Rasheed Ali Hamid told me earlier this week.

The UN children’s agency, Unicef, said that 67 orphans had died at Mygoma since 15 April.

Local activists and international aid organisations were trying to get the children out of the war zone, but it was not easy.

Ceasefire talks in the Saudi city of Jeddah had collapsed and full-scale fighting had resumed.

Poor communication along the chain of command of the warring sides meant that securing safe access to the orphanage, and out of Khartoum, was difficult.

Transporting hundreds of children and babies was a huge logistical challenge.

But Sadeia tells me there was no alternative.

With a handful of local activists, she organised a private evacuation for the older children aged between four and 15 years.

“We extracted them from certain death to a fate that I hope is better,” says Heba Abdullah, a carer from the orphanage who travelled with them.

This first convoy of minibuses set off during the fighting, passing several checkpoints.

On the front of the first minibus, a bedsheet was placed, with a message to the militias written on it: there are children on board.

The group was welcomed in a school in the town of al-Hasaheisa, south of Khartoum.

But beyond shelter and some food offered by the residents, there was very little assistance waiting for the children.

“We are working on the basis of a day’s sustenance,” Heba says.

“A short while ago, one of the neighbours asked me what we needed. She said she did not have anything to offer, but she will help,” she adds.

The most arduous operation was getting the younger ones out.

Local volunteers and agencies including Unicef mobilised to get the children evacuated. Eventually, the Sudanese health ministry asked the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to organise a convoy of buses from Khartoum.

It was a gruelling four-hour drive, with the sound of fighting in the distance.

After spending six weeks trapped in a conflict zone, most of the children were severely malnourished.

“They were just so small in our arms when we were taking them,” says Marina Fakhouri, an ICRC protection delegate who travelled on one of the buses.

“They just need a lot of care.”

Upon arrival, some of them were immediately transferred to hospitals.

One child, who was too severely malnourished, died on Thursday morning.

The hope now is to find families that can foster the children.

“There’s a list of foster families who have been prepared, who have been trained to stand ready to take them,” says Mary Louise Eagleton, Unicef’s deputy representative in Sudan.

“That’s what’s so extraordinary, it’s really about communities coming together to help in this crisis. Even though so many people have taken in relatives, there are still so many people ready and willing to take in these highly vulnerable children.”

About 13 million children are estimated to have been affected by the conflict and, as fighting continues, hopes for a quick and peaceful resolution are fading.

The evacuation of the orphans, says Ms Eagleton, was a much-needed glimmer of hope.

“It brought a bright ray of light to all of us.”

Source : BBC