A man walks while smoke rises above buildings after aerial bombardment in Khartoum North, Sudan, on Monday. [Source Credit: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters]
Despite repeated declarations of cease-fires, the fighting in Sudan won’t stop. Battles between forces loyal to two prominent generals have convulsed the country of 46 million people, paralyzing its teeming capital city Khartoum and prompting a panicked flow of refugees along an arduous journey to Sudan’s borders. Conservative estimates suggest more than 500 people have been killed, with more than 4,000 wounded.
The numbers arriving at crossings in neighboring Chad and Egypt are in the tens of thousands, but Filippo Grandi, head of the U.N. refugee agency, said his operation and its partners were anticipating an influx of some 800,000 people should the conflict continue. Among the many trying to leave the country are refugees from other war zones, including Syria, Yemen and neighboring South Sudan, who had earlier found sanctuary in Sudan.
In one video posted on social media cited by Al Jazeera, an ethnic Rohingya family who once fled a genocidal campaign in faraway Myanmar, pleads for assistance. “We are fearful. We need a safe zone because here the situation is very bad, very heavy fighting,” said the father, who was not identified, while carrying a placard that reads: “Please help us.”
Before hostilities flared last month, a third of Sudan’s 46 million people required humanitarian assistance. Now, conditions are even more grave. Across the country’s major urban centers — particularly in Khartoum, long-insulated from the worst of the many conflicts that previously ravaged Sudan — countless residents are trapped in vulnerable, desperate conditions. Many report being without electricity, running water and food. Access to urgent health care has, in many places, become virtually impossible. In the western Darfur region, the warehouses of various aid groups and international organizations have been looted.
With battles raging and Sudan sliding toward state collapse, the outlook is bleak. Martin Griffiths, the United Nations’ top humanitarian official, warned in a statement Sunday that, in Sudan, “the humanitarian situation is reaching breaking point” and that the warring parties needed to ensure safe passage for civilians and help facilitate relief operations and the personnel carrying them out. “The scale and speed of what is unfolding in Sudan is unprecedented,” Griffiths said. “We are extremely concerned by the immediate as well as long-term impact on all people in Sudan and the broader region.”
For days, the focus in Western media has centered on the evacuations of foreign nationals in the country. After clashes between the two main factions — the regular Sudanese army, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), whose leader is Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti — began in Khartoum and elsewhere more than two weeks ago, a host of Western and regional governments started conducting evacuations by air and by sea. By this past weekend, many governments indicated that they were wrapping up operations.
While countries including Saudi Arabia and Britain have evacuated the largest numbers of people, the United States organized a land convoy on Saturday that carried some 300 American citizens and other foreign nationals all the way from the capital to Port Sudan on the Red Sea, under the protection of armed drones. “It’s not like jumping on the Autobahn,” a U.S. official told my colleagues, referring to the German highway system known for its lack of speed limits. “It’s slow going, with the potential for bad guys all over the place.”
Ordinary Sudanese citizens seeking an escape are not so lucky. In Khartoum, turf wars consume residential neighborhoods while airstrikes pummel areas of the city. The cost for travel to the borders has skyrocketed, with few drivers able to navigate the risk. Civil passenger jets are grounded and a hodgepodge of armed groups make the road trip treacherous. At the border crossings, the miseries don’t end — my colleagues detailed how many would-be Sudanese refugees were left to fend themselves in dire conditions by the checkpoints in Egypt.
As Western diplomats suddenly packed up shop, halted all consular duties and left, some Sudanese nationals even discovered to their horror that the passports they had left at these missions for visa processing were now inaccessible to them. “I am now an obstacle for my family since they cannot travel and leave me,” a woman identified as Zara whose passport was stuck at the Dutch Embassy in Khartoum told CNN. “Please help end this war. And please consider this passport issue. It might save lives. The house in front of us has been attacked.”
Efforts to end the fighting lurch forward. On Monday, it appeared the warring generals had agreed to send representatives to negotiate a more-lasting truce in a third-party country, possibly Saudi Arabia. The two cast themselves as stewards of the country’s democratic transition, which began in 2019, but was interrupted by a power grab that they both carried out in 2021. Now, Burhan and Hemedti are battling for greater control of a country and its wealth of resources. A thicket of outside actors, from Chadian rebels to Egypt’s military to a renegade commander in Libya to Russia’s infamous Wagner mercenary company, all may have a stake in the conflict.
Alex Rondos, a former E.U. special envoy to the Horn of Africa, described the contest in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour as a battle between a “military cartel” led by Burhan and a “warlord” in Hemedti who cut his teeth during Khartoum’s genocidal campaigns in Darfur nearly two decades ago. He lamented how the international community allowed their consolidation of power to take place, at the expense of the grass-roots popular movement that had powered the country’s democratic revolution in 2019.
“This war is telling a resounding truth, which is just now finally being heard,” wrote academic Azza Ahmed Abdel Aziz. “Sudan is a nation that is unraveling under the weight of accumulated injustices, inequalities and unaddressed grievances of parts of its population, which have informed its history as a post-colonial nation state.”
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