Bodies lie on the streets of Khartoum as gunshots echo through the streets. Sudanese Australian community leader Patrick Dako watches the grainy footage, hoping, desperately, that his family has survived another day.
Dako’s cousin, who sent the footage through patchy Wi-Fi that can drop out for days at a time, is stuck in Sudan’s capital, sitting helplessly, 13,000 km away, watching for news of the city that has turned into a bloody war zone.
“They have no electricity, no Wi-Fi and all the access has been cut from them,” Dako said from his Blacktown home. “There’s nowhere for them to get out.”
The United Nations has warned that more than 800,000 refugees could flee the country as fighting continues between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces which erupted into conflict on April 15.
While the growing unrest is far from Sydney, Dako said for the Sudanese community in Blacktown – most of whom fled civil war involving South Sudan in 2011 – it feels incredibly close to home.
“There are some of our people who went from here on holiday to Sudan and they’re now there,” he said. “My kids are born here, when they saw what happened in Sudan they don’t want to go there because there’s no peace.”
Osfak Mela has lost many family members who were killed after they left the capital in an attempt to flee to Ethiopia and escape a country that is at risk of becoming a failed state.
“They say there are some trucks [to get them out], but it’s hard to get even to the place [where the trucks are waiting]. Some tried and some didn’t make it,” he said.
“It’s hard. There is no way out … some of them got killed because they are civilians.”
Sending money to relatives was routine for many in Sydney’s Sudanese community, but now it has become near impossible and Mela fears they could starve.
“I spoke with my elder brother who is there and my cousins, my nephews and my nieces, all of them there. They were really stranded and it’s hard for them to even get food and they even asked me if I could send money [but] there’s nowhere to go and collect the money,” he said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has helped more than 150 Australians and their families evacuate Sudan, and was in contact with more than 100 who are registered in the country.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong confirmed the RAAF joined an international evacuation effort overnight. It flew 36 Australians and their family to Cyprus as well as citizens from six other nations. “Unfortunately, we still have Australians on the ground,” Wong told ABC Radio on Wednesday.
The ambassador of Sudan to Australia, His Excellency Abdalla Wadi, who represents the Sudanese government, lays blame for the conflict on the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and accused the group of being unable to meet a joint agreement to “have one army in the country”.
“A meeting was scheduled to be held between the two parties on the 15th of last April, so as to agree on the last items, but … an unconstitutional regime in Sudan, the RSF, launched on the same day a surprise attack,” he said.
“As a result of their failure to gain their objectives, the RSF has launched extensive, aggressive operations of destroying the most vital entities or services and attack a number of diplomatic missions, looting the properties, storming the homes of citizens and using them as human shields.”
The RSF accused the army of attacking first and said they had seized the airports in the northern city of Merowe and in El-Obeid in the west on April 15.
Wadi strongly disputes the RSF still has control of the airports and remained confident the conflict could be settled internally after a seven-day truce was agreed between the army and RSF.
“More than 95 per cent of the whole country is under full control of the government,” Wadi said.
“What is happening in Sudan is an internal problem and we are very able to do our best to solve it internally.”
University of Sydney social change and Middle East expert Professor Michael Humphrey had a less positive outlook on the state of Sudan, saying there had been optimism that a democratic movement could grow, but the fighting has quashed that possibility.
“It appears that it’s more and more that this was pretty much a facade and that the military, in this case neither of these groups, was really going to be prepared to let go,” he said.
“It is quite remarkable to think about it, these are Sudanese who are fighting in the middle of the civilian population. It’s pretty incredible in the sense of: are they really so detached from their own country and from their own families and regions?”
Humphrey said the crisis Sudan faces is working out how the Sudanese army or the RSF – both a form of military – can let go of power for more stability.
“Whether it’s the official military or the kind of new military … how do you get them to give up power? That’s the crisis and it doesn’t look very optimistic,” he said.
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