Do they have food and water? Australians left to worry over family in Sudan

In 1992, Alice Konyen’s father, who was working with UNICEF in Sudan, was falsely accused of communicating with rebels and assassinated by the government.

Ms Konyen had already escaped with an aunt, and went on to stay at Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp before arriving in Australia with her children in 2006.

She did not know what had become of her mother until 2015, when a mutual acquaintance put them in touch.

Now, after a couple of years of relative peace, Ms Konyen is left helpless in Adelaide, South Australia, while her mother and siblings attempt to hide from bullets and bombs in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum.

Soon after fighting broke out between the Sudanese military and the paramilitary group Rapid Support Forces (RSF) on April 15, Ms Konyen’s mother left her home in fear of it becoming a target due to its proximity to an airport.

A bomb had already hit a nearby area usually home to neighbourhood children playing football.

She is now hiding in a bomb shelter in another suburb with about 15 of Ms Konyen’s siblings, nieces and nephews.

Alice Konyen (centre) said she has no way to help her mother (in the striped scarf) and family as they take cover in Sudan. Photo: Alice Konyen

In a phone call to Ms Konyen on Monday, her mother worried about how she will feed the children.

“Are they getting water? Are they getting food? I’m not quite sure,” Ms Konyen said.

While the military and RSF struggle to gain control over Sudan, she said people aren’t safe no matter which side they support – bullets don’t discriminate, and no one is stopping to ask questions.

Australians stuck in Sudan

There are at least 158 Australians and their family members who are registered as being in Sudan, and a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) spokesperson told TND consular assistance is being provided.

However, Australia does not have an embassy in Sudan and the provision of consular services is severely limited due to the “volatile and dangerous situation”.

Australia’s nearest embassy and consular officials are in Cairo, Egypt.

Australia is working with other nations so that Australian citizens and their families can leave, but all airports in Sudan are closed to commercial flights, and overland travel to border areas is extremely dangerous, according to Smartraveller.

Countries such as Italy and Kuwait have managed to evacuate all their citizens wishing to leave Sudan, but other countries such as the US have no plans to evacuate citizens other than diplomatic staff and their families.

“The Australian government is deeply concerned about escalating violence in Sudan. We call on all parties to cease hostilities and prevent further needless bloodshed,” the DFAT spokesperson said.

Australia’s travel advice for Sudan is ‘Do Not Travel’.

Australians in Sudan are encouraged to contact the 24-hour consular emergency centre (+61 2 6261 3305), register their whereabouts and contact details via DFAT’s online registration portal, and follow advice on Smartraveller, including sheltering in a safe place away from windows.

Weeks of violence

The RSF was legitimised as an independent security force in 2017, despite being accused of war crimes in the Darfur region.

RSF leader General Mohamed Hamdan ‘Hemedti’ Dagalo worked with Sudanese Army General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan to orchestrate a coup in 2021, with the military taking control of the government.

Although Mr Burhan had previously promised to hold an election in July to complete Sudan’s transition to democratic rule, gunfire between the army and the RSF broke out on April 15 in Khartoum, and the Sudanese army labelled the RSF a ‘rebel force’.

The violence erupted from tensions between the army and the RSF over how the latter should be integrated into the military – and which leader would be left with the most power.

On Friday, the World Health Organisation announced 413 people had been killed and 3551 injured since fighting in Sudan broke out.

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