May 6, 2023

Trapped in a War zone: Untold stories of Nigerians fleeing Sudan’s armed conflict

Bus evacuating Nigerians from Sudan catches fire

Some of the evacuees.

•Second batch of evacuees arrive, Sadiya Farouk assures on FG support

By Luminous Jannamike, Abuja

THE Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja was a buzz of activity on Friday as the second batch of Sudanese evacuees arrived in Nigeria.

The passengers, who arrived on a Taco Airline aircraft, comprised 128 females and two males who had survived the armed conflict in Khartoum and the Darfur region, as well as the treacherous desert between Sudan and Egypt.

As the passengers disembarked from the aircraft, their faces were etched with a mixture of relief, exhaustion, and anxiety.

They had endured a harrowing journey, fleeing from their homes and communities in Sudan, which had been ravaged by war and violence.

For many of them, the journey to Nigeria was the first step towards a new life, free from the fear and uncertainty that had plagued them for weeks.

Recall that as the sun set over Khartoum on the evening of April 15th, 2023, the city erupted into chaos and violence.

Rival factions of the military government of Sudan had clashed, and the fighting quickly spread throughout the city and into the surrounding region of Darfur.

As of April 25th, the death toll had climbed to 559, with over 4,000 others injured. The situation was so severe that the federal government began evacuating Nigerian citizens from the region.

The first and second batches of evacuees arrived Abuja on Wednesday and Friday respectively, with harrowing stories to tell.

For Nigerian students and business owners who had made Sudan their home, the situation was dire.

Many were forced to flee for their lives, leaving behind their studies and everything they had built and worked for.

One of the passengers, who had fled her home in Darfur, shared her experience. “My name is Fatima Ahmed and I am a mother of two beautiful children. We were forced to flee our home in Darfur due to the war that has ravaged Sudan. I owned a small business that provided for my family, but the conflict made it impossible to stay.

“We had to leave everything behind and boarded buses through the desert to reach the Egypt border. It was a long and difficult journey, and we faced many challenges along the way. We had to travel with very little food and water, and we were constantly on the lookout for danger.

“We saw many other families and individuals from other countries who were also fleeing the violence in Sudan, and it was heartbreaking to reminisce on how much we all had suffered.

“Despite the difficulties we faced, we were determined to make it to safety. We were in buses for hours unend with no rest or shelter from the scorching sun. My children were exhausted and hungry, and I was afraid for their safety.

“But finally, after what felt like an eternity, we arrived at the Egypt border. We were exhausted and relieved to have made it that far though at that point our journey was far from over, but we were grateful.

“We knew that we still had a long road ahead of us, but we were determined to keep moving forward, to find safety and security for ourselves and our children.

“The experience of fleeing war-torn Sudan with my children was one of the most difficult and traumatic experiences of my life.”

Another evacuee, 22-year-old university student Amina Abdulrahman, had a similarly terrifying experience. “I was in my dorm room when the shooting started. I could hear the bullets whizzing past my window. I grabbed my bag and ran out of the building as fast as I could,” she said.

Abdulrahman and a group of other students made their way to the airport, but they were stopped by a group of armed men who demanded money in exchange for safe passage.

“We had to give them everything we had. They took our phones, our money. We were lucky to get away with our lives,” she told Saturday Vanguard.

Similarly, Kaltume Aliyu, a Nigerian health worker in Sudan, who was one of the evacuees that left the war-torn nation through the desert, shared her harrowing experience with Saturday Vanguard.

She said, “I was witness to the horrors of war and the impact it had on innocent civilians. When the time came for me to leave, I knew it would be a difficult journey, but I never could have imagined just how harrowing it would be.

“The journey through the desert between Sudan and Egypt was incredibly difficult. We were a group of evacuees, including women and children, who had to endure the scorching heat, lack of water and food, and the possibility of bandits’ attack and other dangers along the way.

“As a health worker, I was particularly concerned about the health and wellbeing of those in our group, but there was not so much I could do with the limited resources we had available.

“Despite the challenges, I did my best to provide medical assistance to those who needed it. I treated everything from dehydration and heat stroke to injuries sustained from falls.

“It was heart-wrenching to see some of the children in our group suffer from illnesses and injuries that could have been easily treated, if we had access to proper medical facilities.

“As we pressed on through the desert, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of dread and uncertainty about what lay ahead. But I also felt a deep sense of pride in being part of a group of people who were determined to survive and make it to safety, no matter the cost.

“When we finally made it to Egypt, I was overwhelmed with relief and gratitude. I knew that I had been fortunate to make it through the journey relatively unscathed, but I was acutely aware of the many others who had not been so lucky.

“My experience as a health worker in Sudan and as an evacuee in the desert has left a lasting impression on me, and I will never forget the strength and resilience of the people I met along the way.”

For Abdul, another Nigerian student in Sudan who was part of the first batch of evacuees, the experience in Sudan, was such that will linger in his memory for years to come.
According to him, “As a Nigerian student studying in Khartoum, Sudan, I never could have imagined the horrors that would unfold in front of my eyes.

“The violence and chaos that erupted in the capital city left me traumatized and forever changed.”
Asked of his reaction, when the conflict began, Abdul said: “It all started with the gunshots. At first, we thought it was just a minor scuffle between rival groups, but as the sound of gunfire intensified and the streets became more chaotic, it became clear that something much more sinister was happening.

“I still remember the shellings and the explosions that rocked the city. The loud, deafening boom of grenades and bombs echoed through the streets, sending shockwaves through my body. The air was thick with smoke and the stench of burning buildings and vehicles.

“As the violence continued to escalate, my fellow Nigerian students and I realized that we needed to get out of the country as soon as possible.

“We quickly mobilised into a group of people who were desperate to escape the violence and uncertainty that had engulfed the city.

“The journey out of Khartoum was one of the most harrowing experiences of my life. We had to navigate through the city’s war-torn streets, dodging bullets and shrapnel as we first made our way to the airport.

“The sound of gunfire seemed to follow us everywhere we went, and I was constantly looking over my shoulder, afraid that I would be caught in the crossfire.

“When we finally made it to the airport, the scenes of chaos and desperation that greeted us were almost too much to bear. People were pushing and shoving with no one knowing what to do exactly.

“Without any hope of planes flying out of Khartoum, we had to make for the desert, it felt like a scene from a war movie, except this was real life.

“Despite the trauma and fear that I experienced during my time in Sudan, I am grateful to be alive and to have made it out of the country.

“But the memories of the gunshots, the shellings, and the explosions will stay with me forever, a constant reminder of the violence and brutality that can erupt in even the most unexpected places.”

Meanwhile, as the second batch of Nigerian evacuees were processed through immigration and customs after touching down at the NAIA Abuja, they were greeted by officials from the Nigerian government and humanitarian organizations.

They were provided with food, water, and other basic necessities while some of them reunited with their waiting relatives. Those whose relations were not around to receive them were offered temporary shelter by the National Commission For Refugees Migrants And Internally Displaced Persons Offices.

Speaking to reporters at the airport, the Nigerian Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq, emphasized the government’s commitment to providing support to the Sudanese evacuees.

“We understand the challenges that these people have faced, and we are committed to providing them with the help they need to rebuild their lives.

“We will continue to work with our partners to provide assistance to those affected by conflict and displacement,” she said.

As the Nigerian evacuees settle down, they are filled with a mixture of hope and uncertainty. They have left behind everything they knew and loved in Sudan, and are beginning a new chapter in their lives.

But they are also grateful for the opportunity to start anew, and for the support and assistance provided by the federal government, other stakeholders and humanitarian organizations.

For many of them, the journey to Nigeria was a journey of survival, a journey to escape the horrors of war and violence.