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Sudan: Civilians must be spared amid violence in West Darfur

Thousands are attempting a perilous escape across the border to Chad after nearly two months of blockade and violence in El Geneina.

Refugees fleeing Sudan conflict wait to be treated by Doctors Without Borders teams in Adré hospital, Chad.

Chad 2023 © Mohammad Ghannam/MSF

Almost 900 wounded people from in and around El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur state in Sudan, have fled to Chad over the last four days. Eyewitnesses treated by MSF report people being shot at and killed as they try to escape violence in the city.

New York, June 19, 2023—As almost 900 wounded people and 15,000 Sudanese refugees from West Darfur’s capital, El Geneina, and surrounding areas have reached the Chadian town of Adré in the last four days, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warns of consistent reports of people being shot at and killed as they try to leave the embattled city. MSF urges all armed groups in and around El Geneina to spare the civilian population and allow people to safely leave the area.

After nearly two months of blockade and large-scale violence in El Geneina, situated approximately 22 miles from the Chadian border, thousands of people are now attempting a perilous escape to seek refuge in Chad.

“On Wednesday night, the governor of West Darfur was killed,” said Nour, a 25-year-old from El Geneina who arrived at Adré hospital on Thursday, June 15. “At this moment we knew that the situation would get even worse, and it was a collective decision of the people of El Geneina to leave. Most of them fled on foot heading northeast of El Geneina, but many of them were killed on this route. I can’t tell how many, but I saw many dead and wounded people lying on the ground. The only solution was to head west, and people started walking to Adré in Chad. But the journey was full of dangers as we were exposed and targeted. On Thursday at 11a.m., while I was walking near a town called Shukri, an armed man shot me in the face. Thank God I survived to be treated here in Adré hospital.”

Young man from Sudan with bandaged wound on cheek after being treated by MSF aid workers in Chad
Chad 2023 © Mohammad Ghannam/MSF

Being shot is not the only danger on the road for people desperate to flee the violence, as demonstrated by the testimony from Salma*, an 18-year-old from El Geneina. On Thursday, June 15, around noon, Salma and her two sisters were fleeing the chaos in El Geneina. Their escape was abruptly halted when six armed men in a bus wrenched one girl, Soadd*, away from her terrified sisters and raped her. “They kept her for some time inside the bus," said Salma. "After they finished with her, they threw her out of the bus, and they left. My sister is only 15 years old.”

Soadd is currently fighting for her life in Adré hospital, where she is receiving critical medical support. The three sisters are facing not only the trauma of violence but also the anguish of being separated from their parents in this time of crisis. They have lost contact. Their mother is in Nyala, and the whereabouts of their father are uncertain.

For almost two months, El Geneina has been in the grip of intense fighting. This was initially triggered by clashes which erupted on April 15 between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Khartoum and extended to other states. The unrest has since spiraled into chaos in El Geneina, with intercommunal violence involving youths from the Masalit and Arab tribes adding fuel to the fire.

“The level of violence has been escalating, and people have felt and continue to feel exposed at any given moment to the risk of being targeted or exposed to violence,” said Konstantinos Psykakos, MSF’s outgoing project coordinator who was in Adré, near the border with El Geneina city, for the past two months, waiting for access to the city which was not facilitated.

An MSF aid worker provides medical care to Sudanese refugee in tent hospital in Chad
At least 242 wounded people were received on June 15 alone, and 348 the following day. MSF and Ministry of Health teams are treating them at Adré hospital. Chad 2023 © Mohammad Ghannam/MSF

Eyewitness accounts from the patients who have arrived in Adré hospital in Chad told our teams about mass killings, displacement, looting, women escaping alone with children, and dead bodies in the streets.

Recalling the hardship of surviving in El Geneina over the past few weeks, Nour explained, “no one was allowed to go in or out. We didn’t have clean water to drink, as the armed groups destroyed it. People tried to get clean water from some wadis or natural running water, but snipers were shooting at them. They came to the neighborhoods on pickups and motorbikes, fully armed with machine guns and aircraft guns mounted on their pickups. They were killing anyone they saw then, looting houses then burning the neighborhood.”

Salima, a 27-year-old woman from El Geneina, escaped alone with her five daughters and two boys after she was shot in the right leg while walking in the street near her house. She suffered from multiple fractures. 

“This happened two days ago, but yesterday a helpful man carried me and my kids in his pickup truck to Adré in Chad," said Salima. "I don’t want to go back home because the unthinkable is happening. Men and boys are being killed, and sometimes the armed men let women flee and sometimes not.” During this chaos, Salima lost contact with her husband, and she has no news at all about his whereabouts.

MSF is calling on all parties to the conflict in and around El Geneina to spare civilians and vital infrastructure, and to let people who want to leave the city flee unharmed. We are also making an urgent call for humanitarian teams to be able to access El Geneina and provide support so that wounded and sick people can be cared for.

* Names have been changed

Sudan crisis response