Trapped in Overlapping Conflicts: Refugee Securitization and Regional Geopolitical Dynamics


The violent clashes in Sudan since April 2023 have led to considerable displacement and great hardship for the civilian population. Despite this, the humanitarian crisis is hardly being addressed by the European public. Samuel Zewdie Hagos and Marcus Engler from the DeZIM Institute analyze the causes and consequences of the conflict and the resulting refugee movements.

Mensch steht mit Sudanflagge beim Sonnenuntergang


Away from the eyes of the world and the headlines, the conflict in Sudan continues unabated. More than six million people have been forcibly displaced as a result of targeted attacks on the civilian population and infrastructure. The UN reports that since the outbreak of war in Sudan in April 2023, 5 million people have been displaced within the country and more than one million people have fled to neighbouring countries, demonstrating the immense scale and acute severity of the crisis. Despite the urgency, peace efforts are being thwarted by a complex web of challenges. The governments of neighbouring countries portray the refugees as a potential threat to their national security, shifting the focus away from the severe humanitarian problems faced by Sudanese citizens and other displaced people. In addition, the complex geopolitical dynamics in the region exacerbate the difficulties associated with achieving lasting peace in Sudan. This article explores the intricate relationships between these elements and their combined impact on adequate humanitarian assistance and the pursuit of a peaceful resolution in Sudan. By understanding and addressing these challenges, regional and international actors can work together towards a more comprehensive and sustainable approach to ending the Sudanese conflict and alleviating the suffering of millions of people affected by this ongoing tragedy.

From political conflict to military escalation and ethnic cleansing

In April 2023, a political disagreement between the leaders of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) developed into a full-scale military confrontation in Sudan. Both parties had previously formed a strategic partnership with the aim of influencing the political environment in Sudan after the 2019 coup (1). Despite their alliance, a power struggle ensued, with the leaders of both the SAF and the RSF vying for dominance over Sudan's economic, political and military spheres. As tensions heightened, there has been a notable increase in violent clashes between the two warring factions after April 2023, leading to significant displacement and hardship for civilians across Sudan (L1).

The emergence of the RSF as a rival military force to the national armed forces in 2013 is a cause for concern given its dark history (see their involvement in the commission of mass atrocities, 2). The aftermath of the 28 May 2023 attack in West Darfur underscores this disturbing reality. The RSF and allied Arab militias were accused of summarily executing at least 28 people from the Massalit ethnic group and injuring numerous other civilians. The destruction of Misterei, a predominantly Massalit town, forced tens of thousands of inhabitants to relocate across the border into Chad. This tragic escalation of the conflict requires urgent and decisive international action to prevent further atrocities (L3). The strong similarities between current events and past atrocities against civilians in the Darfur region point to a frightening pattern of violence and persecution against ethnic minorities (2,3). Urgent and effective action is needed to break this cycle of suffering and ensure the protection of vulnerable populations in the region (L3).

Severe consequences for the civilian population and massive displacement

The ongoing conflict in Sudan continues to cause unrest characterised by the deliberate victimisation of civilians and non-military structures. More than 10.000 people have lost their life according to Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED). The conflict has led to the displacement of more than 6 million people, highlighting the dramatic scale and speed of the country's descent into widespread destruction and loss of life (L4). Within Sudan, around 5 million people have been displaced since April, when the war began, according to the UN, while 1.2 million have fled to neighbouring countries (L4). Chad has taken in around 450,000 refugees, Egypt 340.000, the Central African Republic 20,520, South Sudan 350,000, mostly returnees, and Ethiopia 38,000 people who have fled the conflict (L5).

Among those who are fleeing are many refugees and asylum seekers who had previously sought refuge in Sudan. As one of the main refugees receiving countries in Africa, Sudan had hosted a significant number of refugees fleeing conflicts in neighboring countries. Before this escalation, Sudan hosted more than one million refugees, mainly from South Sudan, Eritrea, Syria, Ethiopia, the Central African Republic, Chad and Yemen (L6). Now the current crisis is forcing these already vulnerable groups to relive the trauma of displacement.

The conflict in Sudan is having a severe impact on children and women: More than 3.5 million children under the age of five are acutely malnourished, including 700,000 suffering from severe acute malnutrition, which puts them at an 11-fold higher risk of death (L7). The war has devastated educational institutions, escalated child labour and increased the recruitment of child soldiers. Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) remains widespread, with women and girls particularly vulnerable in this chaos (L8). The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has recently reported on the alarming situation in Darfur, where women and girls are being abducted and subjected to inhumane conditions in areas controlled by the Rapid Reaction Forces - a disturbing echo of previous abuses (L8). This mirrors previous patterns of military groups using rape and SGBV as weapons of war, particularly in Darfur (L2). The ongoing conflict undermines societal protection, leading to more sexual exploitation and lack of support for victims. This crisis requires urgent global humanitarian action to protect the vulnerable and strengthen the rights of women and children in Sudan (L3).

Securitisation of refugee movement from Sudan

Sudan's neighbouring countries have taken in thousands of refugees. However, a political narrative and strategies of securitisation are severely hampering the reception and accommodation of those seeking protection. The concept of securitisation of migration has become a recurring trend in host countries, whereby migration is viewed and approached from a security-oriented perspective, as scholars such as Bigo (4) and Jaskułowski (5) and many others have argued. According to this concept, refugees and migrants are primarily seen as a potential threat to the security, economic stability and national identity of host countries (4, 5).

This logic of securitisation is evident in the discussions and actions related to the reinforcement of borders and the introduction of visa requirements by the Egyptian authorities. On 10 June 2023, the Egyptian authorities introduced visa requirements for all Sudanese nationals, including vulnerable populations such as women, children, the elderly and even infants. This measure is a prime example of how Sudanese nationals are perceived as potential security risks, leading to increased border controls and reinforcing the security-centred approach to migration. According to the New Humanitarian Report (L9), the implementation of these measures has led to a situation where a significant number of Sudanese, especially those who are vulnerable and in urgent need of medical assistance, are stranded in border towns. The scenario described above emphasises the negative consequences of protection, as migrants face unpredictability and challenges when trying to seek safety and asylum in Egypt.

Moreover, the statements made by the Heads of State and Government of IGAD member countries (Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda) during the Addis Ababa initiatives and the meeting of Sudan's neighbouring countries in Egypt in July 2023 also go in the same direction. Migration is primarily seen as a security issue and a threat to social cohesion and stability. The humanitarian needs of asylum seekers take a back seat only.

The role of geopolitics and overlapping conflicts

The presence of geopolitical factors and intersecting conflicts within the IGAD region further exacerbates the complicated nature of local conflicts in Sudan. Countries in this region often have divergent interests and ongoing conflicts, occasionally assuming the role of proxies in the internal affairs of neighbouring countries. Uganda's involvement in the crisis in South Sudan in 2013 (6) and Eritrea's involvement in the Tigray conflict in Ethiopia in 2020 (7) are notable examples that illustrate the complex web of regional relations.

This complexity is compounded by border disputes and an intensifying struggle for important resources. Prominent examples include Ethiopia's efforts to create access to the sea via Eritrea, as well as border disputes and territorial claims between Ethiopia and Eritrea and Sudan and Ethiopia. Another example of resource-based conflicts is the ongoing conflict between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is located in close proximity to the Sudanese border (8).

In addition, the Horn of Africa is of great strategic importance as a vital sea passage connecting different regions of the globe. Consequently, this has attracted the attention of major global powers such as China and the United States, escalating the competition for regional supremacy (8, 9, 10). The dispute is further complicated by the involvement of several international actors such as Russia, Turkey and Middle Eastern states that support the various factions (10, 11). This involvement introduces a multi-layered geostrategic element that interweaves and hinders the resolution of the conflict in the region complicated ways.

Competing and unsuccessful platforms for peace

Against the backdrop of complex geopolitical dynamics, efforts to contain and resolve the Sudanese conflict face major challenges. Various peace forums influenced by this complexity struggle with a lack of effective coordination, often leading to a fragmented and disorganised approach to peace negotiations (1). In particular, the different responses of IGAD and Egypt to the crisis in July 2023 have increased tensions and confusion among the parties involved.

At a meeting in Addis Ababa on 11 July 2023, the IGAD Quartet, led by Kenya, proposed deploying the East Africa Standby Force (EASF) to Sudan to protect civilians and provide humanitarian aid. However, this proposal met with fierce resistance from the Sudanese army, particularly due to the existing border conflicts with Ethiopia and objections to Ethiopia’s proposal for a no-fly zone and military deployment in Sudan.

Meanwhile, the Sudan armed forces, distrustful of IGAD initiatives, preferred to engage in the parallel peace platforms organised by Egypt. Eritrea, a member of IGAD, was also reluctant to fully support IGAD strategies and instead favoured a Sudan-led, internally managed solution. This was also reflected in the simultaneous peace efforts hosted by Egypt in Cairo on 13 July 2023, which also involved South Sudan. Such disjointed efforts, including by regional players such as South Sudan and Egypt, further complicate the situation as each entity pursues its initiatives independently.

Saudi Arabia and the US have been working towards an agreement in October 2023, while the United Arab Emirates has simultaneously supported other peace forums in Addis Ababa. The Sudan Tribune reported on 26 October 2023 that Sudanese political and civil forces met in Addis Ababa from 23 to 26 October and agreed to form a "Coordination of Civil Democratic Forces" (CCDF), an organisational structure with 60 representatives and a 30-member executive office (L10).

These uncoordinated and parallel peace efforts, organised by different groups with conflicting geopolitical objectives, make the ongoing peace efforts even more complex. While each initiative aims to resolve the conflict, they inadvertently contribute to the complicated web of regional and international politics, which hinders a unified approach to achieving lasting peace in Sudan.

Conclusion and Outlook

The surrounding nations of Sudan have exhibited a securitization of migration approach, as indicated by the implementation of more stringent border controls, the imposition of harder visa prerequisites, and the portrayal of migration as a conceivable security concern. This excessive focus on security concerns detracts from the essential measures needed to facilitate the engagement of conflicting parties in peace negotiations.

The attainment of a peaceful conclusion in Sudan is further hindered by the presence of competing regional forums, diverse geopolitical interests, and foreign involvement. The issue is further complicated by the ongoing border disputes among Sudan's neighbouring countries, as well as the battle for resources. The exacerbation of these issues is attributed to the participation of international actors who are engaged in a competition to exert influence over the region and gain control over the Red Sea trade route. These actors provide support to various factions, which align with their own objectives, so introducing further challenges to the pursuit of peace and stability in Sudan.

The current situation in Sudan is similar to and part of a plethora of other conflicts and displacement situations on the African continent and beyond. In Sudan, as elsewhere, there are neither functioning international institutions that can quickly contain escalating conflicts, nor mechanisms for an adequate and internationally coordinated refugee policy. For the latter, all instruments are on the table with the global refugee pact of 2018. However, the vast majority of states have long since stopped working seriously on improving global refugee protection. Germany and the EU do give money for humanitarian aid to refugees in Sudan, as in other conflicts. However, they are not prepared to support neighbouring states, for example with resettlement programs. Moreover, with their brutal border protection and externalization policy, the EU and the U.S. - have lost credibility in human rights issues and can thus hardly effectively influence other governments to improve refugee protection. As a result, in the Sudan situation, as in other contexts, we see only rudimentary care for refugees, defensive reactions by host societies, and a great deal of human suffering.

When considering the various peace conferences and the absence of a cohesive regional approach to the ongoing war in Sudan, it is imperative to embrace a comprehensive, organised, and all-encompassing plan. Prominent entities such as the African Union, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the United States government, and the European Union (EU) should take the lead in advocating for the establishment of a cooperative task force. The primary objective of this group would be to conduct an analysis of the fundamental reasons of the conflict and gain a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics exhibited by all parties concerned. Simultaneously, there is a pressing demand to address the fragmentation resulting from the presence of multiple peace forums vying for attention. A crucial element in the process of reversing this negative trend is the implementation of a comprehensive approach that prioritises conversation, collaboration, and a steadfast dedication to humanitarian principles. Through the implementation of a comprehensive strategy, the global community can establish the necessary foundation for enduring peace in Sudan, effectively attending to immediate need while also addressing the underlying factors that contribute to ongoing violence.


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2. Nmehielle, V.O. (2011). Preventing and responding to atrocity crimes in Africa: Interrogating the African Response in Darfur. African Journal of Legal Studies, 4, pp. 209–224.

3. Daly M. W. (2010). Darfur's Sorrow: The Forgotten History of a Humanitarian Disaster (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press.

4. Bigo, D. (2002). Security and Immigration: Toward a Critique of the Governmentality of Unease. Alternatives, 27(1_suppl), pp. 63–92.

5. Jaskułowski, K. (2019). The securitisation of migration: Its limits and consequences. International Political Science Review 40 (5), pp. 710 - 720.

6. Apuuli, K. P. (2014). Explaining the (il)legality of Uganda’s intervention in the current South Sudan conflict. African Security Review, 23(4), pp. 352-369.

7. Miller, S (2022). Nowhere to Run: Eritrean Refugees in Tigray. Issue Brief, Refugees International: Washington. Retrieved from

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Links to reports and data portals from international organizations

L1. The Security Council Report (2023). November 2023 Monthly Forecast. Posted 31 October 2023. Retrieved from

L2. Amnesty International (2004). Sudan: Darfur - Rape as a weapon of war - sexual violence and its consequences. Report of Amnesty International on sexual violence, 19 Jul 2004. Retrieved from

L3. Human Rights Watch (2023). Sudan: Darfur Town. Human Rights Watch report on the need to investigate killings and looting by Rapid Support Forces, July 11, 2023.

Retrieved from

L4. IOM (2023). Regional Sudan Response Situation Update, 8 November 2023. Reports from the UN Migration Agency, Posted 8 Nov 2023. Retrieved from

L5. UNHCR (2023). Sudan situation. Last updated 10th Nov 2023. Operational Data Portal of UNHCR. Retrieved from

L6. UNICEF (2023). Humanitarian situation report. UNICEF Sudan Country Office Humanitarian Situation, Report (4), 19 May 2023. Retrieved from

L7. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) (2023). SUDAN Situation Report. Last updated 7 Nov 2023. Retrieved from

L8. Ochab, E. U. (2023, November 4). Darfur: Women’s bodies are being used as a tool of war. Forbes. Retrieved November 9, 2023, Retrieved from

L9. Guergues, A. & Amin, M. (2023). For Sudanese fleeing to Egypt, a hard border and an uncertain future. The New Humanitarian, News feature, 10 July 2023. Retrieved from

L10. Sudan Tribune (2023, October 26). Sudanese civil forces agree to form leadership body headed by Hamdok. Retrieved from