Thousands flee as Sudan collapses into war | WORLD
Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

Thousands flee as Sudan collapses into war

International interests influence the collision of power-hungry generals

Refugees from Sudan crossing into Egypt on April 27 Getty Images/AFP

Thousands flee as Sudan collapses into war

Sudanese families are crowding the Arqin border crossing into Egypt this week, desperate for a way out of the country. Many drove for hours across the desert to the northern region, where they joined hourslong queues of cars and buses before crossing.

“It’s a mess—long lines of elderly people, patients, women and children waiting in miserable conditions,” Moaz al-Ser told the Associated Press after arriving with his wife and three children on Tuesday.

Across the border, the Egyptian Red Crescent set up a station offering medicine, communications, and other emergency support to the arrivals.

Similar scenes are playing out in the east on the Red Sea at Port Sudan, where both citizens and foreigners try to leave the country by boat. Other nations have organized evacuation flights for their citizens.

Fighting sparked by rivalry between Sudan’s top generals has killed more than 500 people since April 15, injured more than 4,200 others, and sent many fleeing to safety. The warring sides have shown no sign of relenting in the conflict, and international players have joined the fighting. Foreign governments are rushing to evacuate their diplomatic staff and other citizens as the fallout of the conflict widens.

The battle for dominance is playing out between Sudan’s armed forces chief, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and his former deputy, Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, head of the powerful paramilitary group the Rapid Support Forces. After the 2019 ouster of Sudan’s longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir, the two generals jointly led a coup in 2021, derailing plans for a transition to civilian government.

Last December, military and civilian leaders signed the outline of a deal after renewed negotiations to begin a democratic transition. The process sought to integrate the Rapid Support Forces into the military. But the generals disagreed over details of the integration and who would wield control.

Days before violence broke out earlier this month, RSF began deploying fighters to the capital city of Khartoum, the strategic town of Merowe, and other cities. The sides blame each other for initiating the violence.

Troops on both sides have launched airstrikes and opened fire across the capital city, forcing civilians to seek shelter indoors. Fighting extended to the neighboring city of Omdurman and the nearby Blue Nile and North Kordofan states. On Thursday, clashes escalated in the western Darfur region.

“What’s going on right now is the story of rivalry between two generals who have been working together to commit the coup they did two years ago,” Rama Yade, senior director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, told WORLD. “Instead of working together to organize the peace process and the transition to democracy and elections, they have decided to fight each other to see which of them would take control of the army, the economy, and the country.”

Last week, the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors warned that 39 out of 59 hospitals in Khartoum and nearby states were already incapacitated by the fighting.

On Wednesday, more than 1,600 evacuees from Port Sudan docked in the Saudi port city of Jeddah. They included Americans and nationals from more than 50 other countries. The U.S. Department of Defense said Monday that about 16,000 Americans, including dual citizens, were still in Sudan.

A three-day truce that began Tuesday allowed evacuations to continue despite reports of sporadic shooting. The sides agreed to extend the cease-fire by another three days.

Sudan is not new to conflict. Al-Bashir’s regime suppressed non-Arab ethnic minorities in the Darfur region by backing the Janjaweed militias, which later gave rise to the RSF. The group is blamed for widespread atrocities in Darfur. Al-Bashir reformed the militias into a paramilitary force in 2013. Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, served as a commander in the Janjaweed and led its transformation into RSF.

Ahead of the latest fighting, about a third of Sudan’s 46 million people relied on humanitarian aid. But the ongoing fighting has further complicated aid delivery and the people’s needs.

Joyce Msuya, the United Nations assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told the UN Security Council last week that the agency received reports of tens of thousands of people arriving in the Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, and South Sudan.

“Sudan is something of a keystone state, so it has multiple neighbors, many of which are fragile themselves,” said Joseph Siegle, a senior research fellow at the National Defense University. “We have already seen record levels of forced displacement of refugees and internally displaced people in the region, so the crisis in Sudan is going to contribute to that.”

Dr. Tom Catena, an American physician serving in Sudan’s remote Nuba Mountains, said the fighting has not reached his area. But residents still feel its effects. “It’s increased the prices of everything,” he said. “It’s almost impossible to buy fuel locally, and the other materials we need.”

The fighting has also drawn other international actors. Former officials and militia commanders said Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar helped train RSF months before the latest fighting began, according to The Guardian. The report says Haftar, who controls much of eastern Libya, detained Dagalo’s enemies, delivered fuel shipments, and may have trained hundreds of RSF soldiers in urban warfare this spring.

The Russia-based mercenary Wagner Group has also been active in Sudan as far back as 2017. The group denies any involvement in the current conflict. But a CNN report noted last week that Wagner supplied the RSF with surface-to-air missiles.

“Russia sees the turmoil in Sudan as an opportunity to further expand its influence in Africa,” Siegle said. “The Russians, through Wagner, have worked very closely with Hemedti in mining and trafficking gold, so Russia has some very close and very direct interest in what’s happening in Sudan.”

Neither general has fully committed to calls for peace talks. Siegle sees the path to democracy as the only way forward, given the country’s economic and financial situation. “For these generals, even if one side were to prevail, they’re going to be in charge of a collapsing state,” he said. “And so it really is going to be incumbent on all sides to move forward with the civilian transition.”

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD’s Africa reporter and deputy global desk chief. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University–Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria.


These summarize the news that I could never assemble or discover by myself. —Keith

Sign up to receive World Tour, WORLD’s free weekly email newsletter on international news.

Please wait while we load the latest comments...