Displaced Sudanese mark Eid Al Fitr amid hardship of war and loss

Sudan refugees
7 min read
11 April, 2024

Despite their devout belief in the sacredness of Eid Al Fitr, as well as its importance in their faith, and that it is also an annual occasion of celebration and joy, this year the Sudanese people have lost the special atmosphere that always accompanies the major Islamic festival.

Ali Ibrahim is currently living in Dongola city in the far north of Sudan, having been displaced due to the war and his need to find work – both to stay alive and also to support his family. He has been sending back some of what he is managing to earn, despite the small amounts.  

The war in Sudan, which erupted between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) on 15 April 2023, is nearing the end of its first year and has resulted in the deaths of around 13,000 civilians.

It has also led to the displacement of around eight million people who are seeing in the Eid Al Fitr scattered across and outside of the country, many of them struggling to survive and cope mentally with the dire situation as well as the lack of opportunities in front of them – to earn money and to support themselves and their families.

"This year the Sudanese people have lost the special atmosphere that always accompanies the major Islamic festival"

Ali Ibrahim says to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister edition: "The joyful Eid Al Fitr is a sacred, religious occasion with a unique social character for Muslims and the Sudanese."

He explains that Eid this year is very different to years in the past, pointing out that Eid has arrived while he is far away from his family due to his having been forced to relocate to the far north to find work, due to the war.

He is now 200 km distant from the rest of his family.  He adds that he has made minimal preparations for Eid, in terms of buying a few items he needed as well as a few things for the family and needs for the family, because prices are high, especially for clothes and sweets.

He says this year he won’t be able to visit his friends and wish them a happy Eid because many of them have been internally displaced or have been forced to flee to neighbouring countries. Some have died in this war.

In the past, he says, "Eid would have a special and familiar atmosphere and they would experience it through special preparations and arrangements as well as visits to the markets, and baking bread in the neighbourhoods. The greatest pleasure was to spend time with your parents and siblings and visit neighbours and friends, then we would have the first meal on the day of Eid in the final home we would visit and would exchange the Eid greetings and congratulations."

As for Salwa, she and her family have been displaced from Gezira State, which the war reached last December, and have settled temporarily in River Nile State, in north Sudan.

She says it doesn't feel like Eid in any way because she has left her parents and two siblings in Gezira, and headed for River Nile State. Her other sisters chose to flee the hell of war and seek refuge in Egypt, she adds, and because of this, she can't feel any of the usual joy of Eid – with her family scattered.  

She explains that she didn't prepare anything for Eid, but did buy new clothes for her children and a few sweets – so that they would not be deprived of happiness on the special day.

However, she didn't prepare the pastries which she has always done for years, and says that what she will miss the most, besides her mother and father and small family, is the visits to family and neighbours. She adds that she will not be able to wish her parents a happy Eid even on the phone because the telecommunications and internet blackout is still ongoing.

Nadia, from El Obeid, the capital of North Kordofan state, says she feels the "bitterness of exile" after having been displaced to Kassala state.

During Eid, she will miss all the distinctive details and traditions which are customary in El Obeid. She emphasises that all she can feel right now is longing for her family, friends and home, adding: "We didn't get ready for Eid and I don't know what we will do. No changes to the furniture in the house, no get-togethers with friends to make the Eid biscuits and cakes. No [new] clothes and no friends. We are strangers here. There are no neighbours to wish a happy Eid to."

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Hajj Abdulkarim Ali is from Geneina city, in West Darfur state – a city which has witnessed some of the most brutal battles in the entire war. He says what took place there were crimes against humanity.

"Eid is passing [the people] while they are at their most vulnerable, and are missing those who are gone. There will be no games or new clothes for the orphaned children. We are waiting for a breakthrough and for safety and security to return to the city and all the cities of Sudan," he says.

The situation appears better in villages and towns which the war has not yet engulfed, like Manaqil in Gezira state – perhaps the only town in Gezira that the RSF has not reached according to Mohamed Azhari, who says he feels a sense of joy with the coming of Eid, but it is combined with fear.

However, unlike elsewhere in Sudan, he explains that "despite all the threats, fear and wariness which is first and foremost in the minds of the citizens and the vendors, the cities markets are thriving and well organised. The general scene at the markets in Manaqil at the moment indicates there has been a revival in buying and selling, of food items especially in particular the Eid essentials."

"As for those who have been displaced outside Sudan, although they may have a safer and more comfortable Eid, some say their psychological state is in worse shape than those who remain in Sudan"

He says the clothes market has also been very busy which was unexpected given the current circumstances, with "a lot of the merchandise running out in the shops due to high demand, especially children's clothes."

He adds that the security authorities in Manaqil had developed a plan to secure the markets, which were seeing big crowds, to try to prevent chaos from being caused by troublemakers who might try to take advantage of the situation. Army personnel have been deployed in the markets to monitor the situation, he clarifies.

As for those who have been displaced outside Sudan, although they may have a safer and more comfortable Eid, some say their psychological state is in worse shape than those who remain in Sudan.

Muhasin, a Sudanese refugee in neighbouring Egypt, says: "Eid came this year at a bleak time for us. There are no signs of joy or preparations being made among us, as has always been the custom in our bereaved homeland. We are living in Egypt but the rest of the family are still suffering in Sudan because of the accursed war which is ongoing.

"For the first time since we came into this life, we decided not to go to the market to buy clothes and sweets for the children. Even in the house, there are no signs it is Eid, like the general tidying and cleaning which usually happens, like changing the curtains, rearranging furniture and repainting."

She adds: "I'm living as a refugee in another country. However, there can be no happiness on Eid and no joy as long as our people are lacking the most basic essentials of life – with no safety, no food and no healthcare services."

As for Hussein Yahya Osman who is currently living in a refugee camp in neighbouring Chad, he laments the state he and the thousands of other refugees are living in there, complaining of the  "disgusting conditions in the camp and lack of facilities."

He explains: "We don't have the means to prepare for Eid as we used to do in Ardamata which is our birthplace and where we lived before the war."

Osman expresses his hope that safety and security will return so that they can return to their homeland to begin their lives again.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.

Translated by Rose Chacko   

This article is taken from our Arabic sister publication, Al-Araby Al Jadeed and mirrors the source's original editorial guidelines and reporting policies. Any requests for correction or comment will be forwarded to the original authors and editors.

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