A boy overlooks a refugee camp near the Chad-Sudan border A boy overlooks a refugee camp near the Chad-Sudan border 

Sudan’s ‘forgotten’ war and the immense suffering of its people

With over 12,000 deaths and more than 7 million displaced people, Sudan, in Northeast Africa, continues to suffer the ravages of war far from the eyes of the world.

By Linda Bordoni

“Let us not forget the tensions and conflicts that trouble the region of the Sahel, the Horn of Africa and Sudan,” Pope Francis implored during his Urbi et Obri blessing on 25 December.

But notwithstanding over 12,000 people killed and more than 7 million displaced this year, notwithstanding the UN emergency relief chief describing the crisis in Sudan as “One of the worst humanitarian nightmares in recent history“, the war that has been tearing the nation apart for the past eight and a half months seems far from the cares of the world.

The war

The ousting of former president and long-time dictator Omar al-Bashir five years ago and the subsequent agreement between Sudan’s military and civilian authorities on a political framework deal that provided for the transition to a civilian government had given hope to the Sudanese people hungry for peace and democracy.

That was until the struggle for power between the two generals in command of the regular army and the paramilitary group, known as the Rapid Support Forces, erupted violently on 15 April 2023, giving life to a brutal conflict that continues to hit civilians the hardest.

The official number of deaths amounts to 12,000, but it is feared the actual figure could be much higher.

The conflict, which began in the capital, Khartoum, has spread to other areas of the country, particularly the western region of Darfur. It then moved south to Kordofan and finally to the southeast in the state of Gezira, which remained relatively unaffected by violence until December, and was where many displaced people had sought refuge.

Observers denounce that the conflict has degenerated with severe violations of international humanitarian law and reports of ethnically motivated killings, mass graves, and the use of rape as a weapon of war. 

People fleeing the violence in West Darfur
People fleeing the violence in West Darfur

Attacks on churches and missions

Meanwhile, Church buildings and missions have come under indiscriminate attack. On 1 November, the largest Church building in Omdurman, used by the Episcopal and Evangelical denominations was bombed. Just three days later, the Dar Mariam Mission in Khartoum, which housed five religious Sisters and a Priest as well as a number of refugees, also came under fire.

1.4 million Sudanese have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, while 6.7 million are internally displaced, making Sudan the country with the highest number of IDPs in the world.

Humanitarian emergency

The consequences of the war have triggered a severe humanitarian crisis, affecting the entire territory, with 17.7 million people experiencing food scarcity, including nearly 5 million in dire conditions.

There are over 6,000 cases of cholera due to precarious sanitary conditions, resulting in dozens of deaths.

Sudanese women in makeshift shelters in Adre, Chad
Sudanese women in makeshift shelters in Adre, Chad

Ceasefire appeal

The Catholic Church’s humanitarian arm, Caritas, has been alongside the affected population from the beginning, supporting multiple interventions by the Church and the Caritas network, present in various refugee-receiving countries like Chad, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Central African Republic.

Caritas echoes the repeated appeals from Pope Francis and Sudanese and South Sudanese bishops for an immediate ceasefire that would guarantee access to humanitarian aid, protect the civilian population, and allow the allocation of the necessary funds for the humanitarian assistance of refugees, displaced persons, and host communities.

Glimmer of hope?

In a rare foreign trip, General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, the leader of Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, visited Ethiopia this week, where he reportedly had discussions on the end of the war.

The trip comes weeks after RSF fighters captured the country’s second-largest city, Wad Madani, where hundreds of thousands of people had sought refuge from the fighting.

Dagalo, who was received by Ethiopian authorities, posted pictures of talks on X and wrote, “We discussed the need to bring a swift end to this war, the historical crisis in Sudan, and how to best alleviate the hardships of the Sudanese people.”

A child displaced from Sudan's Jazira state in a temporary shelter in Gedaref in the country's east
A child displaced from Sudan's Jazira state in a temporary shelter in Gedaref in the country's east
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29 December 2023, 13:23