RSF go on rampage in Sudan's Al-Fashir amid warnings of dire humanitarian implications

RSF go on rampage in Sudan's Al-Fashir amid warnings of dire humanitarian implications
Fierce fighting in Al-Fashir broke out starting 10 May, which residents and humanitarian groups say is worsening an already terrible humanitarian situation.
5 min read
06 June, 2024
Thousands of internally-displaced women and children in Al-Fashir are without food, medicines, and necessities they need for survival. [Adam Rogal/TNA]

The paramilitary Rapid Support Forces' (RSF) recent attempts to capture Al-Fashir, the last stronghold of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in the western Darfur province, has killed hundreds of civilians and driven thousands to flee the city. This has exacerbated an already dire humanitarian crisis.

Fierce fighting in Al-Fashir broke out starting 10 May, which residents and humanitarian organisations say is worsening an already terrible humanitarian situation for its population of 800,000 people, most of whom are internally-displaced persons (IDPs).  

"Both parties used all types of strong and light weapons," Muhyiddin Mukhtar, a volunteer with local relief agencies in the city of Al-Fashir, north-eastern Sudan, told The New Arab. "The RSF, by the second week of the attacks, turned to indiscriminate bombing of residential neighbourhoods and shelter centres hosting internally-displaced people who have fled states and provinces under their control," the 28-year-old said by phone. 

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The ongoing violence in Sudan erupted in mid-April 2023, after rivalry that had been brewing between the SAF and RSF finally blew up, leading to thousands of people being killed. Those who have so far dodged the bullets are currently facing dire humanitarian conditions.

In addition, with the RSF threatening and harassing journalists, much of the war has gone unreported.

The fighting, which began in Khartoum, the capital, has spread out to other parts of the country, including Darfur, where a grim legacy of ethnic violence and old rivalries dating back to the early 2000s drew other non-Arab parties into this war, to stave off the RSF's advances into Al-Fashir, the last main city in the western Sudanese state still under SAF’s control.

"In the early weeks, more than 150 citizens were killed due to indiscriminate shelling and stray bullets. Hundreds of RSF fighters sneaked into the residential areas and the Abu Shouk camp for the displaced, setting fire to houses built with straw, which caused panic among the people, forcing them to leave," said Mukhtar.

Commenting on the exodus of thousands trying to flee Al-Fashir, Mukhtar said that they’re being driven out by the "indiscriminate shelling that is claiming lives and wrecking infrastructure", adding that families who do try to escape are not spared, but are "subjected to looting, raping, harassment and even murder by the RSF under accusations of belonging to the SAF, or other armed groups aligned with the army". 

'Targeting civilians'

Mukhtar said he lost a 33-year-old friend on Monday, 3 June, who was among six young men shot dead at point-blank by RSF fighters while on their way out from Al-Fashir with their families, heading to the city of Mellit.

"They were stopped, forced out of the car, and killed in front of their wives and children," said Mukhtar. 

The New Arab was unable to verify this story. However, in a 30 May statement, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Clementine Nkweta-Salami, said that "families, including children and elderly people, are being prevented from leaving the city as they search for safety." 

According to Adam Rogal, spokesperson for the Coordination of Displaced Persons and Refugees in Darfur, described the violations committed against civilians to be "horrific", noting that both parties are using"food and medicine as weapons, inflicting starvation and slow death on the displaced citizens by the parties to the conflict, causing a catastrophic humanitarian situation."

Elaborating on the shortage of food supplies in the local markets, and the exorbitant prices the limited stock is being sold at, Rogal said that thousands of families are unable to source food, and starvation is impacting most households.

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"Around 4,860 families, or 27,425 people, have left Al-Fashir since May 24, and arrived in various areas of Jebel Marra, where they are left with no shelter, food, medicine or any other basic necessities," Rogal told TNA by phone. "What they're experiencing is unimaginable."

Things only getting worse

The UN's humanitarian agency OCHA describes Sudan as currently facing "the largest internal displacement crisis in the world and the most significant child displacement crisis." More than over 7.4 million people having left their homes in search of safety, in and outside the war-wrecked country, including 3 million children, in addition to the 3.8 million IDPs from previous conflicts. 

UN figures show that some 18 million people across the country are going hungry, while five million are on the brink of famine. Meanwhile, OCHA warned that "the already-fragile health system is in tatters, with looming disease outbreaks."

Director General of the Ministry of Health in North Darfur State, Ibrahim Abdullah Khater, told TNA that the medical staff at the South Hospital, the only operating hospital in Al-Fashir, are powering through despite "being the target of RSF's continuous bombardment with heavy artillery missiles which caused severe damage to the hospital, and despite the severe shortage in supplies."

"They're seeking to bring about a complete paralysis in civilians' lives, but the staff is adamant to continue working. If the hospital comes to a complete halt, we’ll shift operations to fully-equipped health centres which we have set up in residential areas as alternatives," he explained. 

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Member of the displaced persons' coordinators in Abu Shouk camp, Ismail Khareef, said the intentional and increased targeting of the camp is severely jeopardising the lives of its 80,000 IDPs. Abu Shouk, which is located in northeast Al-Fashir and is one of the biggest camps of IDPs in North Darfur, sees the fall of 30 bombs on average every day, said Khareef.

"This has killed at least 200 people over the past 20 days, and wounded more than 300 others. Homes are destroyed and so is the infrastructure, and lack of medication is putting many lives at risk,"  he said by phone.

He also said that clean water has become very difficult to obtain or provide to the camp’s residents as a result of fuel shortages, which left them unable to operate wells.

This deteriorating humanitarian conditions have pushed Saadiya Khater, a 62-year-old housewife, to flee Al-Fashir, which she has sought for safety with her three daughters in October, escaping the fighting in Darfur's Niala, some 200 kilometres away. Relocating twice since 10 May, Khater eventually crossed over to Chad, which she had left as a child in 1969.

"I was a child then, and we left because desertification left us no life, but the chances of making it here is higher than the ongoing fighting that has gripped Sudan," the housewife told TNA

This piece was published in collaboration with Egab.