While global attention has focused on the fighting between the Sudan Armed Forces and Rapid Support Forces in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, attacks have shaken the West Darfur town of El Geneina.
Clashes between the two armed forces in El Geneina erupted on April 24. Witnesses say militia members from the ethnic Massalit and well-armed Arab communities soon joined the fray. The United Nations has reported that 96 people there have been killed. There has also been property destruction, arson, and pillaging in the town, includingin the heavily populated Al-Jabel Avenue neighborhood and informal camps for displaced people.
“There was smoke and fire everywhere,” said a 39-year-old resident who fled the town at the start of the fighting.
The humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Friday that the El Geneina Teaching Hospital, the main referral hospital in the area, had been attacked and looted. MSF has had to suspend its operations in El Geneina.
Unlike much of Sudan, armed conflict is not new to West Darfur. The region was heavily affected by the government’s ethnic cleansing campaign that started in 2003. Since 2019, West Darfur has experienced waves of violence that killed hundreds of civilians, displaced tens of thousands, and resulted in massive property destruction. In April 2021, four days of attacks in El Geneina left at least 144 people dead and 233 injured, doctors said. Almost 40,000 people were forced to flee.
Food security in West Darfur was already dire before the current fighting, according to the UN World Food Programme.
In February, the UN Security Council panel of experts on Sudan raised concerns about a proliferation of weapons in West Darfur and aggressive recruitment campaigns by the Sudanese military and the Rapid Support Services.
Talking by phone with people in West Darfur over the past days, we heard tragic stories that we’ve long been hearing from Darfur: repeated displacement, the deaths of loved ones, and losing everything owned.
International scrutiny of Darfur is needed, especially given the massive evacuation of aid workers. The Security Council should call on all parties to the conflict to allow unhindered access to humanitarian aid and permit medical workers to work safely. Donor countries should ensure that sufficient resources are allocated to Darfur. Governments should abide by the Security Council’s Darfur arms embargo and stop transferring weapons, ammunition, and materiel to the warring parties.
With risks to civilians spiralling throughout the country, communities in Darfur should no longer have to rummage through ashes see if they have anything left to hold onto.