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Millions flee homes in Sudan amid reports of widespread war crimes

The conflict in Sudan has entered its fourth month with no end in sight. The fight between the Sudanese military and a rival paramilitary force has killed thousands and more than 3 million have fled their homes. As William Brangham reports, the West Darfur region is the worst hit with allegations of war crimes being committed. A warning: images and accounts in this story are disturbing.

Geoff Bennett:

The conflict in Sudan has entered its fourth month with no end in sight.

The fight between the Sudanese military and a rival paramilitary force has killed thousands. More than three million people fled their homes. And three-quarters-of-a million have migrated to neighboring countries.

As William Brangham tells us, the country's West Darfur region is the worst hit, with allegations of war crimes being committed and a grisly discovery last week, a mass grave.

A note that some images and accounts in the story are disturbing.

William Brangham:

In the windblown Sahara Desert, refugees from Sudan's war find little shelter. These victims, mostly women and children, are arriving by the thousands, driven from their homes to head across the border into neighboring Chad.

These families have fled the brutal violence that's occurring in Sudan's West Darfur region.

Huda Humza, Sudanese Refugee:

In the morning, even, they attack us, and during the attack us, in the roads, they took us everything, money, food, clothes, and even they killed the relatives and the friends.

That was difficult time, because they did such a horrible things.

William Brangham:

Twenty-three-year-old Huda Humza is one of 20,000 refugees who arrived at this camp in the past week alone. Safe for now, she worries about her children and their next meal.

Huda Humza:

The most important thing is the security and health, and the most important, even, the food.

William Brangham:

Families who have managed to reach this camp in the town of Adre, which is supported by the U.N.'s World Food Program, have survived a deadly journey. Now they must try to rebuild what is left of their lives.

Abuobida Abrasheed, Sudanese refugee: On our way to Adre, we can find them also, like, dead bodies. They kill people, those who were like coming to kill people. So they were in the road with motorbikes, with, like, guns and with cars.

William Brangham:

Darfur, Western Sudan, is a region the size of Spain. It's been home to deadly violence for over two decades.

The current fight stems from a power struggle between two factions of the Sudanese army in the capital of Khartoum. That conflict has reignited attacks in West Darfur, an area where, 20 years ago, the Sudanese government and its militias committed genocide against the Darfuri people.

Today, it's an offshoot of those same Arab militias, known as the RSF, that are now accused of carrying out targeted killings in the same areas. Researchers from Yale university working with the U.S. State Department's Sudan Conflict Observatory Program confirmed that the RSF and its allies have systematically targeted and destroyed 26 communities, towns and villages in West Darfur.

Videos obtained by the "NewsHour" show how schools that were once shelters have been burned to the ground. Mosques have been attacked, and public buildings looted.

Sudanese human rights activist Yousif Abdalla, who sent us these videos, has now fled Darfur and gone to Khartoum, but clearly hasn't escaped the fighting.

Yousif Abdalla Arbab, Human Rights Activist:

In the area where I live now, there's gunfire. I don't know what's happening, but it is like 8:00 p.m., and there is a lot of gunfire.

William Brangham:

Abdalla, like most of those fleeing Darfur, has suffered personally.

Yousif Abdalla Arbab:

We also — we lost our family, some of our family, my brother, because, even if someone in front of you have been shot, if you can't help him or her, because there is nowhere to help.

William Brangham:

Following reports of widespread war crimes, including mass rapes, the International Criminal Court has now launched an investigation.

Shahd Hammou, Gender Adviser, Mercy Corps Europe, Sudan:

There's been an overwhelming report of sexual and gender-based violence across the country.

William Brangham:

Shahd Hammou works from Mercy Corps Europe in Sudan. She was based in Khartoum and escaped a week after the conflict began.

Shahd Hammou:

We have seen that the need for support for these sexual-based violence survivors has increased by a million women since the conflict has started.

This brings the total up to around four million women who need support post experiencing sexual and gender based violence. In some states, we're seeing that there's been a 900 percent increase in women who need support.

William Brangham:

This ongoing fighting has exacerbated an already bleak humanitarian crisis in Sudan. Nearly 25 million people, more than half the country's population, are in need of some form of humanitarian aid.

Barzil Mwakulomba, World Vision:

People are in need for food. We are seeing a food insecurity that is likely to keep on rising as the days go by.

William Brangham:

Barzil Mwakulomba is the East Africa emergency affairs adviser at the charitable group World Vision.

He says reaching those most in need has been the biggest challenge and many aid workers have died trying.

Barzil Mwakulomba:

With ongoing conflict, aid workers, over 15 such now have died in the line of duty, of serving the people of this area. A lot is being put into negotiating access. If there is no cease-fire, it may be difficult for aid workers to be able to do what they're called to do.

William Brangham:

Repeated cease-fires and peace talks have failed, with both sides refusing to give up their weapons or their fight.

Stuck in the middle are the people of Sudan, robbed of their homes, and robbed of what was once the hope for a peaceful future.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham.


(c) 2023, PBS NewsHour


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