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Trapped Refugees in Sudan Church Endure Hunger and Violence

Photo : Reuters

Around 80 people, including dozens of women and children, are currently seeking refuge inside Khartoum's Dar Mariam mission, a Catholic church compound located in the al-Shajara district. They are caught amidst the ongoing violence between Sudan's army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), facing severe food shortages and constant threats from the conflict.

Father Jacob Thelekkadan, a 69-year-old Indian national who oversees the mission, along with several nuns and the refugees, have been enduring harrowing conditions. The compound has suffered extensive damage, with bullet-riddled walls, parts of the buildings set ablaze, and the main building's roof damaged by shells.

Food supplies have been critically low, pushing the community to desperate measures. The nuns have resorted to boiling tree leaves to feed the children, while adults have had to skip meals. Attempts by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to evacuate them in December resulted in tragedy when gunmen attacked the convoy, leaving two dead and several wounded.

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Despite offers from the Sudanese army to evacuate them across the river, Father Thelekkadan and the nuns have chosen to stay with the refugees, emphasizing their commitment to the safety and solidarity of the entire community.

The Dar Mariam mission initially became a refuge for many last June, as violence engulfed Khartoum and its surrounding areas. The RSF's occupation of strategic sites in the district, including the nearby Armoured Corps camp, intensified the conflict, making the mission an isolated sanctuary for those unable to flee.

The situation worsened in November when bombardments damaged the compound further, including setting parts of the nuns' residence on fire and injuring several people. Despite these challenges, the mission's residents have persevered, finding moments of solace amidst the chaos. Father Thelekkadan and the nuns have transformed the most secure rooms into shelters, trying to protect the children from the ongoing crossfire.

Food distribution has been sporadic, with local markets inaccessible due to the clashes. Since February, airdropped provisions from troops stationed at the Armoured Corps camp have provided some relief, including essential supplies like sugar and fuel for generators. The Sudanese army also facilitated a Starlink connection, enabling communication amid the isolation.

The ongoing conflict in Sudan has created one of the world's largest internal displacement crises, with nearly 10 million people displaced inside and outside the country, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The capital, Khartoum, once sheltered from Sudan's previous conflicts, has now borne the brunt of unprecedented destruction and displacement.

Father Thelekkadan and the nuns remain resolute, despite the challenges. They continue to pray for safety and hope for a peaceful resolution to the conflict that has shattered lives and torn communities apart. As the situation remains dire, humanitarian efforts are urgently needed to support those trapped in Dar Mariam and countless others affected by Sudan's devastating conflict.

July 3, 2024 1:29 p.m. 421

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