Sudanese families sacrifice home comforts to host war-weary IDPs

Sudanese families sacrifice home comforts to host weary IDPs
6 min read
12 October, 2023

Prior to April 2023, Salim* lived comfortably in his three-bedroom apartment in the Al Qadarif province in eastern Sudan with his wife, daughter, parents, and two brothers. 

“When the conflict struck our country, four of my other siblings along with their children had to move in with us,” the 32-year-old told The New Arab. “In addition, I opened my home to four women and their children.”

When they arrived, Salim said his newly received guests were in a “dire situation.”

"Around 69% of those internally displaced by the conflict have reportedly fled from the capital of Khartoum"

“Mentally they were in a critical situation due to the atrocities they witnessed, death and shilling everywhere,” he described. “Whenever there’s a loud sound happening around it reminds them of the bombing they witnessed.”

Once a spacious living space, Salim is now living in “incredibly cramped” quarters. 

“We all share a single bathroom,” he said. “The men sleep on mattresses on the floor in the living room and the women are divided between the two other rooms. My wife, daughter and I still have our own bedroom.”

Salim is not alone. Countless families surrounding Sudan’s capital of Khartoum have chosen to take in internally displaced persons (IDPs) fleeing conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary force the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). 

Since the fighting started in mid-April, nearly 5.2 million people have been displaced internally.  Around 69% of those internally displaced by the conflict have reportedly fled from the capital of Khartoum.

“A lack of water, shortages of food, electricity, and medicine, killing and dead bodies decomposing in the streets are consequences of the conflict that have forced the citizens to flee,” Elsadig Elnour, Islamic Relief country director for Sudan, told The New Arab. “People are fleeing the city every day and swelling the numbers of internally displaced people in the country.”

According to UNOCHA, since the start of April's conflict, more than 3.9 million Sudanese have been displaced [Getty Images]
 Since the start of April's conflict, more than 5.2 million Sudanese have been internally displaced [Getty Images]

Many factories which produce food have been destroyed, and the city has been described as a garbage heap with rubbish piling up, and water and sanitation services compromised.

As the mass exodus of Khartoum continues, the entirety of Sudan faces shortages of the most basic items. 

Prices of essential goods have dramatically increased due to disrupted trade routes and limited access, making them unaffordable for those remaining in besieged towns and cities across Sudan. 

With food prices rising, so does the number of people facing food insecurity. The UN-created Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) warned over 42% of the population will likely be driven into high levels of acute food insecurity. 

Widespread human rights violations have also been reported where there has been fighting, including gender-based violence, forced displacement, and killings of civilians.   

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Following the alarming increase in people affected by the crisis, IOM doubled the funding requirement to $418m USD. 

“As needs continue to rise, we reiterate our appeal to the international community to urgently support relief efforts and help ensure life-saving aid is delivered before it’s too late,” said Federico Soda, IOM Director of the Department of Operations and Emergencies. 

Where humanitarian support lags, people remain desperate for a place of safety amid the fighting, and Sudanese hosts are stepping up to meet the need.

Salim and other families in Sudan want to provide for those fleeing Khartoum, as it is part of their culture to offer support and hospitality during the crisis, but the hospitality has come at a cost. 

“As a Sudanese, it's my duty to provide shelter and support to those in dire need,” Salim said. “The situation in our country has affected everyone, and it's crucial for us to support each other as much as we can."

"With food prices rising, so does the number of people facing food insecurity. The UN-created Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) warned over 42% of the population will likely be driven into high levels of acute food insecurity"

The majority of hosts are, like Salim, living on relatively low incomes in homes with an average of three rooms. Some live in huts. 

“Host families rely on their available income sources - this could be farming, daily labour or as an employee doing different forms of work,” said Elnour, highlighting that hosts are supporting IDPs with small incomes.

“These host families are really struggling. Sometimes they don’t speak out. We call them invisible aid beneficiaries because they need aid but don’t get the same attention as those who have been displaced. In many cases, hosts have shared all of their resources with the IDPs.”

“Prices have skyrocketed, often doubling or even tripling due to the scarcity of goods in the market,” said Salim. 

Taking on sole responsibility for the needs of everyone in his flat has left Salim overwhelmed. 

“My family and I did our best to provide whatever we could — clothes, shoes, and other necessities,” he said. “However, it's undeniable that the financial pressure we are all facing in our country has added an extra burden to meet everyone's needs.

"I can only cover the basic food requirements to ensure everyone has enough to eat. But this isn't always the case because prices have skyrocketed, and some essential food items like flour, oil, sugar, lentils, and wheat are often unavailable in the market.”

In addition to food, Salim has been trying to get period products for women and personal hygiene necessities. 

“The situation is incredibly tough, but we're committed to supporting one another in these trying times,” he said. 

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Acknowledging his country is at a “critical point”, Salim hopes for concrete, practical solutions to end the crisis. 

“It is exhausting for both my wife and me,” he said, describing how feels to host so many IDPs. “The weight of this situation bears down on us mentally and financially. However, I firmly believe in upholding our commitment to our guests, who are already burdened with their own challenges during these trying times. It's our duty to shield them from any added worry, and we are determined to do so.”

Like Salim, many hosts see no option but to care for those who end up at their front door, but they aren’t getting the humanitarian support that IDPs would receive. 

“Culturally, many of the people who are hosting don’t want to talk about it publicly,” said Elnour. “And if you have guests staying with you, you will never want to say that you’re being overwhelmed by them. These host families are vulnerable and they should be treated the same as IDPs. We must support these hosts, build food security and appeal for all sides in this conflict to end the war.”

*name changed for anonymity

Lauren Crosby Medlicott is a freelance features writer specialising in social justice issues

Follow her on Twitter: @LaurenMedlicott