First Person: Caught in the crossfire in Sudan
Raghuveer Sharma Raghuveer Sharma said he felt relieved when he saw the Indian Army at Port Sudan. "We felt an immense sense of relief that our lives may be saved.”
At the same time, UN agencies are also helping to provide emergency relief support, including the International Organization for Migration (IOM), whose Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) aims at assisting refugees and third country nationals who are desperately trying to flee fighting by escaping to neighbouring countries.
Sudan’s national army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary unit, have been locked in a violent conflict since 15 April. According to the UN, more than 400 people have been killed in the fighting while tens of thousands of people are estimated to have been internally displaced, including more than 100,000 people who have fled to neighbouring countries.
Mr. Sharma moved to Sudan in 2021 with his brother. At the time violence broke out, he was working at the Omega steel plant and living with 160 workers in a guest house on the company’s premises 15 kilometres outside the capital city of Khartoum.
“We worked to clean the environment by recycling scrap metal. It had been almost two years since I had lived there, and things were going well. Unexpectedly, the conflict started there on 15 April. Both the military and the paramilitary fought amongst themselves, and the airport was shelled and burnt.
When the airport was destroyed, we got worried about how we would return home to India. We were not even able to contact anyone in India. We were trying to establish contact with the Indian Embassy as well, but network problems made that difficult.
Fighter planes flew over the guest house where we were staying, dropping ammunition and missiles.
We were very worried about how to get to a safe place in Sudan.
Raghuveer Sharma Indians lining up at Port Sudan after being rescued from Khartoum.
Looting and intimidation
On 17 April, a group of armed men entered the guest house. We all locked ourselves in a room in fear. They were vandalizing and firing their guns indiscriminately and speaking in a local language we could not understand.
Then they took one of our colleagues hostage. He started shouting for help.
Gathering courage, we went to rescue him, and gave them whatever we had – mobile phones, laptops – gave them keys of the vehicles, and that’s how we managed to send them away.
Trading cars for ‘our lives’
We came up with a plan that as soon as armed groups entered the guest house, we would not let them come inside. We felt that as long as we had vehicles and mobile phones, our lives would be spared. We let them take whatever they wanted; we just needed our food to survive. We had to keep our rations hidden.
We let them take whatever they wanted; we just needed our food to survive. We had to keep our rations hidden.
They came back again and again, hour after hour, and took whatever they wanted. They would come, we would offer them a car, and they would take it. We had 10 to 15 vehicles with us.
It went on this way for seven days. They came every day, and we all would assemble outside the guest house. During this time, we could neither sleep properly nor eat. When they would come, we would go out and give them whatever they wanted. By staying calm, we were able to save our lives.
The strange thing was that those armed fighters appeared to be mostly children, about 10 to 15 years of age. They didn’t seem to know when and how to fire a weapon. A gun was being handed over to a child, who should have had a pen and a book in his hand.
Meanwhile, there was no proper contact with our families. At least 150 phones were looted from us, but we kept a dozen hidden. We had to cope with serious network problems, but once we contacted the Indian Embassy, the evacuation effort began.
‘Immense sense of relief’
On 23 April, an Indian Embassy bus picked us up, taking us on an almost 1,000-kilometre journey to Port Sudan. When we reached Port Sudan, we finally felt relieved when we saw the Indian Army. We felt an immense sense of relief that our lives may be saved.
We can only pray for Sudan. It would be good if the UN can take some action, especially for the children who are being exploited by the paramilitaries.
The people of Sudan love us, and they are happy to help. There is a lot of respect for Indians. People are also crazy about Bollywood. Sudanese people listen to Hindi songs, and Indian Bollywood stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan are easily recognized by everyone.
I hope that everything gets back to normal in Sudan soon.”
Raghuveer Sharma In happier times, Raghuveer Sharma with his brother visited the River Nile. In the background is a bridge that he said is now “completely destroyed”.