Hundreds of thousands flee major Sudan city as rebel forces take control

Pic: RSF

As the world’s attention focusses on Gaza, a human catastrophe of immense proportions is taking place in Sudan.

An estimated 300,000 people are fleeing one of Sudan’s biggest cities, Wad Madani, in the latest wave of large-scale displacement after a rebel group took the city, the UN migration agency has said.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than half a million people had taken refuge in Al Jazirah state since the start of the crisis in April and they are again on move following a fighting which broke out in the outskirts of Wad Madani last week.

Fighters from the rebel Rapid Support Forces (RSF) battling the army for eight months have now taken the city of Wad Madani, a city packed with thousands of displaced people and serving as an aid hub.

Upon taking Wadi Madani, RSF leader General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo said: “Civilians in the city of Madani and across Al Gazeera State will remain safe, in security and peace. The Rapid Support Forces will provide protection to all citizens, their assets, and families. Those who left the city due to fear of confrontations between the RSF, and the remnants are encouraged to return safely to their homes. The entry of the RSF into Madani aimed at striking the remnants and recruits linked to the former regime whom we will pursue and arrest, wherever they are…

“This great victory will not distract us from our real goal of taking Sudan back to the path of democratic transition, and we therefore declare that the RSF is fully prepared to do whatever is necessary to empower the real revolutionary democratic forces and cooperate with them to form a ‘constituent transitional government’ of civil forces, to build a new State in Sudan on founding principles, the most important of which is the creation of a new national and professional army that does not interfere in politics and is fully subject to civilian government.”

However, his optimism seems not to be shared by aid organisations or people who have decided too flee.

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“This is a human tragedy of immense proportions, deepening the country’s already dire humanitarian crisis,” IOM Director General Amy Pope said in a statement, adding that the intensifying conflict and growing displacement underscore “the urgency of a peaceful resolution, the need for a ceasefire and a robust response to avert a wider catastrophe.”

The latest movements will push Sudan’s total displaced population beyond 7.1 million – “the world’s largest displacement crisis,” the IOM said.

It added that more than 1.5 million people have fled to neighbouring countries due to the conflict,  food insecurity,  and economic collapse.

Moreover, the International Committee of the Red Cross “is urgently calling on the parties to the conflict to ensure protection of all civilians and provide safe passage for people trying to reach safety,” the agency said in a statement.

Hemedti (l) and Burhan

“We fear that Wad Madani, once considered a safe haven for people fleeing extreme violence in Khartoum, is turning into another death trap,” said Pierre Dorbes, the head of the ICRC delegation in Sudan.

“We saw desperate people running away in panic to the sound of explosions amid traffic jams and chaos,” Dorbes said, stressing that during each displacement family members get separated, and vulnerable people are left behind.

Sudan has been mired by fighting between the army, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the country’s ruling Sovereign Council, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces since April.

Several ceasefire agreements brokered by Saudi and U.S. mediators have failed to end the violence.

The RSF, who have been battling the army since April, are believed to control nearly 70% of Sudan’s capital city, Khartoum, along with most of the western Darfur region.

It was formed in 2013 and has its origins in the notorious Janjaweed militia that brutally fought rebels in Darfur, where they were accused of ethnic cleansing.

Since then its leader General Muhammad Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, has built a powerful force that has intervened in conflicts in Yemen and Libya. He has also developed economic interests including controlling some of Sudan’s gold mines.

The RSF, which is backed by the UAE, has been accused of human rights abuses, including the massacre of more than 120 protesters in June 2019.

Meanwhile, the Sudanese army is backed by Egypt.

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