Sudanese abroad try to extend a lifeline and aid back home
London (AP) — With her homeland now a conflict zone, rest does not come easily for Dr. Sara Abdelgalil.
She is anxious about family still in Sudan that she can’t reach. Her sleepless mother paces the floor above her with worry. And her phone buzzes at all hours with text messages seeking medical advice from thousands of miles away.
Abdelgalil is a pediatrician in Norwich, England, but Sudan is her “first home,” and she has become part of a lifeline of doctors providing long-distance support to the people living in a state of chaos and terror as fighting rages outside their homes.
“We don’t sleep well because we’re expecting the worst,” said Abdelgalil, who texts relatives each morning to make sure they’re still alive. “I’m trying not to panic as much as I can.”
For some of the roughly 50,000 Sudanese people in the United Kingdom, a sense of helplessness over a situation that seems to have no end in sight has been replaced by a sense of duty. Some are trying to help family, friends — even strangers — who are sheltering from urban combat between two military factions threatening to tear the country apart.
Fighting that began April 15 has claimed more than 420 lives, including at least 291 civilians, and wounded at least 3,700. Food is scarce and expensive, hospitals have been shelled and are near collapse, water has been cut off in places, and power and internet outages have left people in the dark and unable to stay informed and in touch.
Even from 3,000 miles (5,000 kilometers) away, the Sudanese diaspora community has been involved in events back home. In 2019, many supported a popular uprising that forced the military’s removal of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir. Now, they are trying to do whatever is possible despite obstacles.
On Sunday, dozens of Sudanese staged a loud and lively demonstration outside Britain’s Ministry of Defense to draw attention to what their families are facing. As runners passed by in the home stretch of the London Marathon, a little girl and woman with microphones chanted, “Peace and justice for Sudan!” while others held signs saying, “Stop the war in Sudan,” and “No to all the generals.”
Attorney Abobaker Adam said they want to get the U.K. and international community to help stop the fighting between the Sudanese military, commanded by Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group, led by Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo.
“If we don’t stop this war, people who can survive … the bullets could die because of the lack of food, lack of water,” Adam said. “The danger is there. We have to do everything.”
The fighting by the rival factions has been widely condemned by foreign governments who want a return to negotiations. European, North American, African, Mideast and Asian countries have evacuated diplomats and other citizens in a sign that they expect the situation to worsen.
From afar, there’s only so much that can be done.
Typically, families abroad send money home, but that’s not possible when banks are shut down. Many shops also are closed and people are terrified to leave their homes.
“These generals are fighting for their own ego and their own interest and what they are doing is not in the best interest of the Sudanese people,” Adam said, referring to Burhan and Dagalo.
Sudan’s Doctors for Human Rights is trying to train colleagues in the battleground how to recognize and record human rights violations and get word out to the international community, said Dr. Husam El-mugamar.
Internet outages have increased anxiety for Sudanese abroad seeking updates on their loved ones. Abdelgalil worries when she doesn’t see that her WhatsApp message was received. When they talk by phone, the fear is palpable in their voices that the conflict is nearby.
“You can hear the explosions,” Onaheed Ahmed said of calls with a niece she’s trying to get out of Khartoum. “Like the actual house is shaking, the apartment is shaking and it’s really clear on the phone. You can hear the bullets, you can hear all the grenades.”
El-mugamar said his brother and sister, their families and a visiting friend were trapped in their house for days. A bullet whistled through a window one day and ricocheted around an empty room. A few days later, soldiers took up positions outside the home, but his family didn’t dare look outside to see which faction it was, taking cover in the cellar.
Everyone has heard stories of people caught in the crossfire while trying to get food or flee the violence.
“We have reports of civilians dying every day,” said Bassil Elnaiem, who is unsure how much longer he’ll be able to reach grandparents and cousins in Sudan. “We’re just worried that it could be one of our loved ones that’s the next victim of this war.”
Abdelgalil is trying to juggle her need to stay in touch with family and friends in Sudan and helping others there, with raising a 12-year-old son and working full-time as a doctor.
She also is working to try to fight disinformation and hate speech online, circulating a peace petition to the U.N. Security Council and fielding urgent text messages to provide medical advice a continent away.
She had just gone to bed Sunday when a notification alert arrived around midnight from a mother who said her 1-year-old had fallen earlier in the evening. Abdelgalil texted questions until she was able to realize the toddler was in pain but didn’t need immediate care. To her relief, the mother texted later in the morning to say the child was better.
One of the WhatsApp groups Abdelgalil belongs to discussed the heartbreaking case of a 9-year-old diabetic girl who died because her parents — afraid to leave home — waited too long to get insulin.
She has tapped into a medical network to direct parents to the nearest clinic or pharmacy in Sudan and provide the parents of a vomiting child a formula to make a rehydration solution.
“When they say to me, ‘Thank you’ and they send me ‘thank you’ message with hands together, I just feel like at least I’ve done something,” Abdelgalil said, “even to save them from going outside and being shot.”