Thousands Flee for Safety from El-Fasher, Sudan

Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray
Sébastien is a published journalist and historicist with over six years of experience in freelance journalism and research. His primary expertise is in African conflict and politics, with additional specialization in Israeli/Palestinian and Armenia/Azerbaijan conflicts. Sébastien serves as the deputy desk chief for Africa.

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Thousands of civilians are reportedly leaving the Sudanese city of El-Fasher, in the North Darfur state, as combat continues to intensify in the city. As conflict spirals from the war, the humanitarian crisis has only worsened in Sudan. Across the country, civilians are fleeing their homes due to a lack of supplies and goods.

An Exodus

Thousands of civilians in El-Fasher are making the highly dangerous journey to the town of Tawila, 60km away from El-Fasher, under the promise of safety. Many of the roads in and out of El-Fasher are blocked by both the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), making leaving the city rather difficult.

Witness testimonies from those who have managed to leave described seeing entire villages razed to the ground on their way from El-Fasher to Tawila.

Within El-Fasher, approximately 800,000 civilians remain in the city. Due to many of the roads in and out of the city being blocked, many are, in essence, trapped in El-Fasher.

El-Fasher is of vital importance, as it is the last remaining city within Darfur that is still controlled by the Sudanese military government. The government losing El-Fasher would solidify the RSF’s effective control over Darfur, which is already a stronghold of the RSF.

El-Fasher has been experiencing clashes since early April, and a full on assault from the RSF since early May. Civilian deaths are believed to be in the hundreds as both the RSF and the SAF continue to employ their common tactic of indiscriminate bombings, however the RSF appears to be doing so more frequently within the city. Exact casualty estimates are hard to determine as, as is the case with the remainder of Sudan, there is a lack of information gathering mechanisms that can offer proper estimations.

Tawila, however, is controlled by neither the RSF nor the SAF. Instead, Tawila is controlled by the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), a rebel group comprised of ethnic minorities that are indigenous to Darfur; the Fur, the Zaghawa, and the Masalit.

A photo of Sudanese refugees that had fled El-Fasher arriving in Tawila (Photo from the Sudan Tribune).

The SLM was originally created as a method of defence against ethnic persecution in Sudan, particularly amidst the wider Darfur genocide. In the present conflict, the SLM has vowed to protect civilians, and aligned itself with the government against the RSF. The RSF has historically targeted ethnic minorities; a policy they have continued in the present conflict. The Masalit in particular have been the victim of numerous ethnic-based attacks by the RSF.

Unfortunately, the humanitarian situation within Tawila is akin to the remainder of Sudan. Humanitarian organizations operating within the town have reported large shortages of food and water supplies, medicine, and shelter.

Sources associated with the SLM have reported that the town is unable to handle the influx of refugees, which have further stressed their available resources that were already low.

The shortages in Tawila and in El-Fasher have emphasized the necessity for an increase to humanitarian aid being brought in to Sudan; an issue that is not being adequately dealt with.

On Tuesday the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced that three trucks of aid managed to cross the border from Chad into Sudan in North Darfur, after several weeks of waiting. The UNHCR further stated the aid will assist to help 1,140 families, however the aid permitted is wholly insufficient to make a meaningful dent in Sudan’s hunger crisis.

Within Sudan, approximately 18 million people suffer from acute hunger. The UN and other humanitarian organizations not only suffer from supreme supply and funding shortages (which, in turn, worsens the supply shortage even further), but also from a series of bureaucratic impediments. These three trucks are just a few of many that are held up in Sudanese border crossings or Sudanese ports, not allowed to or afforded the necessities to travel and properly distribute aid.

The UN has called for the removal of these impediments, however little action has been taken by the relevant parties to mitigate this issue and adhere to the UN’s requests.

These factors, mixed with conflict being prevalent in many of the worst affected areas, makes aid delivery very difficult. As such, many populations have gone with either minimal aid, or no aid at all, since the war began in April of last year.

Lessening Control

As previously stated, El-Fasher is the last city in Darfur controlled by the military government. Its loss would represent yet another massive hit to the SAF, who have suffered many since the war began over a year ago.

While they have managed to take some ground back, the SAF has steadily lost key territories to the RSF.

These losses are a likely factor in why the SAF has been reluctant to participate in any peace talks. If they were to enter peace talks now, they would be doing so at a disadvantageous position, and would be more subject to the demands of the RSF regarding the establishment of a peace deal.

While there have been external efforts to revive peace processes in Sudan, it is unlikely either side will legitimately commit to any negotiations, regardless of their statements claiming otherwise, until one side is forced to negotiate due to their situation having become untenable, or meaningful outside pressure is exhibited to encourage negotiations.

After the outbreak of the war last year, the US and Saudi Arabia attempted to negotiate a ceasefire in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. While several ceasefires and humanitarian pauses were established, they were all quickly broken, some of which immediately.

A photo of diplomats attending peace talks, sponsored by the US and Saudi Arabia, aimed at ending the war in Sudan in May of 2023 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (Photo from SPA).

Following the break down of peace processes, both sides have expressed their willingness to negotiate or sign a ceasefire, in some cases with preconditions, however neither side has actually made any effort to due so. Both sides reluctance to commit to such a process is evidenced by the establishment of a UN Security Council resolution this year that demanded a ceasefire between warring parties in Sudan for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. This resolution went ignored by both sides, and fighting continued.

In the mean time, the humanitarian crisis is likely to deepen.