ADRE , Chad — The roads are unpaved. Children are playing with old tires. And adults are trying to figure out what's next. A refugee settlement in Chad, near the country's border with Sudan, is a clear sign of a growing humanitarian crisis that is affecting the region.

At least 1 million people have fled Sudan after a new conflict broke out between the Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese Armed Forces earlier this year. At least 400,000 of them have ended up in Chad – with many of them located in the town of Adré.

"Today, I saw people on the brink of death — including young children," said U.S. UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield during a visit to the encampment on Wednesday. An NPR Morning Edition team embedded with the ambassador on this trip to observe the situation and new refugees arriving in Adré. As the fighting continues in western Sudan, people don't have many other viable options.

"I watched dozens of displaced persons from Sudan stream across the border into Chad," Thomas-Greenfield said. "Women with nothing but babies on their backs."

But they are the lucky ones who've made it out alive.

Once they arrive in Chad, though, they face new challenges. Shelter, water and food are hard to come by.

Over the months, Adré has turned into an endless sprawl of small little dwellings and huts, some more sophisticated than others. It's not uncommon to see twigs or other small branches holding a particular setup together.

Covering several hundred yards, the Adré camp is football field after football field of refugees.

"We canot ever get blunted or fatigued about other people's misery," Thomas-Greenfield told NPR's Michel Martin during an sit-down interview for Morning Edition in Chad. "We have to engage. We have to find a way to address these situations."

As a UN Security Council briefing last month showed, women have also suffered sexual violence during the conflict.

"The United States strongly condemns pervasive conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) in Sudan, which credible sources including victims have attributed to the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and their allied militias" State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a press release.

"The numerous reports of rape, gang rape, and other forms of gender-based violence against women and girls in West Darfur and other areas are deeply disturbing. These acts of brutality contribute to an emerging pattern of targeted ethnic violence."

These are not the only issues that volunteers and others in the camp have to contend with. They must face everything from racial tensions to medical problems and food shortages.

A trip inside a makeshift medical center showed malnourished children, some of them so weak they couldn't even cry or scream.

U.S. UN Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield hopes that media coverage of the dire situation within the refugee camp, which is expected to grow before the end of the year, will increase awareness of the crisis and potentially lead to additional humanitarian assistance.

But there's a risk. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blicken's visit to Kyiv on the same day that Thomas-Greenfield met with refugees illustrates that there are numerous conflicts of global scale. And this large amount of conflicts makes it even more difficult for governments to decide which ADRE , Chad —humanitarian crisis takes priority and should be supported with taxpayer dollars.

The broadcast interview was produced by Milton Guevara.
The digital version was edited by Treye Green.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit


MICHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: They come on foot or horse-drawn carriages, a few by car or truck, with their families and belongings piled around them. They are coming by the hundreds of thousands, escaping fighting in Sudan that erupted a few months ago between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, both struggling for control while the country plunges into chaos. Roughly a million people have spread out across the region. Nearly 400,000 have come to Chad, and many of them have landed in a place called Adre, which was a small village and has now become the site of an enormous settlement where people have built makeshift shelters, sometimes with a little more than twigs and tarp to shelter themselves from the sun and rain. The U.N. warns that critical supplies are running low. We saw this firsthand while touring a field hospital in Adre.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: This made me believe that Renata's (ph) doing better because there is no nasogastric tube anymore, and she's drinking.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: You can see the swelling over the eyes and on the feet. So different types of malnutrition that we're dealing with.

MARTIN: This morning I am at the U.S. Embassy in N'Djamena, the capital of Chad. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, is here. We actually came here with her, and she is with us now to tell us more about why she is here. Ambassador, good morning. Thank you so much for joining us.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: We should mention that the U.N. General Assembly is about to get underway in New York shortly. It's a high-profile event for diplomats and heads of government around the world. But you decided to come here this week. Why here and why now?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Why here and why now? The situation here in Chad demands that we be here, demand that we amplify what is a critical humanitarian and human rights situation that you witnessed with me, Michel, yesterday, as we saw so many desperate people cross the border. And I had an opportunity to talk to those people, and I wanted to amplify their situation because this really is very reminiscent of what we saw happen in 2004.

MARTIN: So what stood out to you? We - as you mentioned, we joined you yesterday at Adre. What stays with you even now?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, it was the lack of hope, the fear that people express to me as I spoke to them about why they were crossing the border, seeing children in the hospital who were malnourished and seeing the amazing but desperate work that was being done by U.N. and NGO humanitarian workers to save lives. It was extraordinarily emotional, and it was extraordinarily sad, but it was also hopeful in the sense that these people were being welcomed with open arms by the Chadian people.

MARTIN: Can I just play a little bit of a conversation that I had with a man named Salah Almeida Omer (ph)? He had his large family with him and told us the story of how he was able to get them out. He wasn't able to get them out all at once. And - but I just want to play a little bit of what he told us about why he ended up leaving Sudan. You have to lean in and listen closely to what he had to say, but here it is.

SALAH ALMEIDA OMER: They enter our home by gun and frightened the women and even my (inaudible) daughter. This is sensitive issue. I have to talk in separate side. Finally, looted some money from our home.

MARTIN: Can I ask you, how long did it take you to get here? How long was the journey?

OMER: How - again, partially because I cannot collect all my family one go. So I pushed the sons, the boys, first, in advance. Next day - the daughters. The third step - I and my wife and the small kid.

MARTIN: Where are you staying here? Where do you stay?

OMER: I stayed in a (inaudible) school. Yes, (inaudible) middle of Adre.

MARTIN: Do you have enough to eat? Is there enough food?

OMER: Until now we have not enough food. But are trying to send daughter to N'Djamena to sell or to buy beets (ph) and something that - to gain money for us. So but until now, I have a car outside of the entrance of Adre, required to pay for them. Until now I can't, and so still stuck in there.

MARTIN: What do you hope for? What do you hope will happen? Do you want to go home, or what do you want to do?

OMER: Home.


OMER: Home is a...

MARTIN: I'm so sorry.

OMER: It is important for me. As you see, for my age, I built all my life to make generation and make (inaudible) and did my best and forced to leave my house. So - and I check N'Djamena again. Still, along the road are people with guns, on motorcycles. Some shots of - during night. And at the same time, you cannot - are they friend or enemy? This is - we are not stable there. So I can't now trust on the situation going on in N'Djamena.

MARTIN: Thank you for speaking with us.

OMER: Thank you.

MARTIN: We very much wish the best for you and your family.

Ambassador, you can hear the emotion in this man's voice. You are a career diplomat. You've seen a lot in your life and career. How does this situation compare to others that you've witnessed?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It is as bad, but I have seen worse. But this does not bode well for what we see happening here. So this is why I'm here, to amplify the voices of this man, to amplify the voices of the young girls I spoke to yesterday. One told me she had lost her ambition. I mean, just imagine. And she said it with such sadness. And I said to her, you can't lose your ambition. That's yours. You have to keep it.

MARTIN: But how do you explain to people who have not seen these things about why they should care, apart from basic human decency? How do you explain this to people, especially in a moment in the United States when we are already hearing some people talk about compassion fatigue? I mean, some Republicans in Congress and candidates for office are saying we should pull back on Ukraine, for example, which is fighting a nuclear power with obvious expansionist ambitions. How do you make the case that this is important?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You have to keep trying to make the case, and that's why we're here today, Michel. This is why I'm in Chad, to make that case so that people can hear the voices of this man, the voices of others who are suffering. We cannot ever get blunted or fatigued about other people's misery. We have to engage. We have to find a way to address these situations. I want to amplify - I want to encourage others to give. The United States is the largest donor to humanitarian programs around the world. It is something that I'm extraordinarily proud of, and it is something that most Americans are proud of. And we have to keep doing everything we can, but we also have to encourage others to do more. And I want to encourage others to do more.

MARTIN: Are there other strategic issues here as well, along with the moral imperative? I mean, Chad has been an important U.S. ally, despite the fact that the U.S. has some disagreements with the way governance is taking place here, you know, at the moment. But are there other strategic issues at play here?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, Chad is in a bad neighborhood - that's the way I described it - and it's surrounded by countries that have experienced terrorism, and they are in the center of this strategic play that we're in. And so we have to work with Chad. We have to work with other countries in the region to address this. This fighting going on in Sudan doesn't have to happen. It's two generals fighting each other for power. And that situation has led to millions of people crossing the borders into neighboring countries, really stretching those countries' abilities to deal with their own issues.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, Ambassador, and this is a complex question and I do hope we'll talk again about it, what is the plan going forward, how to get to a solution where the fighting can stop and hopefully people can return to their homes if they wish?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, we are engaged very intensely with the leadership in this region, with the regional organizations, the African Union, the Arab League, the neighboring countries, to find a path forward to peace and to get the two warring parties to lay down their arms so that the people can have peace, they can return to their homes without fear. And that effort is ongoing, and it is intensely important that we continue to engage on those issues.

MARTIN: You chaired the first significant meeting on Sudan at the United Nations in years recently. That's before you came here. The U.N. General Assembly is meeting shortly. Are there plans for further focus on this issue at the United Nations, and are there some concrete steps that that body could take to intervene in this crisis?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Absolutely. As we go into high-level week, which is the major meeting of the United Nations that will take place in New York, heads of state from all over the world will be there. The situation in Sudan has to be on the agenda, and we have to engage with the parties on that. So my purpose is to bring this to high-level week, to get the parties to come together to talk about what the solutions are and actually forge a way forward. And that's a tall order, but it's something that I think is intensely important for us to do.

MARTIN: Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield represents the United States at the United Nations. We are speaking to her at the U.S. Embassy in N'Djamena in Chad. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, thank you so much for speaking with us today.

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you very much, and I'm delighted to have been here.

(SOUNDBITE OF HANDBOOK'S "CAN'T TALK NOW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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