When two Rapid Support Forces (RSF) soldiers stormed Nadir el-Gadi’s home in Khartoum on April 23, they demanded to know which side of the Sudan conflict he supported – the RSF or the Sudanese army.
The 77-year-old responded that he wasn’t with either side.
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“I said we are against this war. We are prisoners of this war,” el-Gadi told Al Jazeera on Saturday.
“They were suspicious,” el-Gadi said, adding that the soldiers claimed they were there to see if he was hiding enemy soldiers. “They said, ‘Are you sure there is nobody in this house?’”
The soldiers eventually left, and el-Gadi was unharmed, but others had not been so lucky. The RSF has reportedly raided hundreds of homes, often evicting and assaulting residents or looting their belongings – sometimes both.
The raids are part of a broader trend that has seen the RSF embed itself in residential areas by turning apartments and even hospitals into military outposts, according to activists, witnesses and rights groups.
Before el-Gadi’s home was raided, his nephew had informed him that he was fleeing to Egypt with other relatives. He urged his uncle to come, but el-Gadi, a British-Sudanese national, said he was on a list of evacuees and expected the United Kingdom’s government to evacuate him within the week.
Shaken by the RSF soldiers, he called his nephew back to let him know he had changed his mind and wanted to go.
“Our nephew told us it wasn’t safe for us to stay [at home] anymore,” el-Gadi said. “[My nephew] sent us an experienced driver, and we left our house with two small bags.”
In the first days after the clashes between RSF fighters and the Sudanese army started on April 15, many people fled Sudan’s capital of Khartoum and later learned that RSF fighters had looted or occupied their homes.
Sara Awad recalled calling her neighbours on the 10th day of the conflict. She was told that RSF fighters looted everything and took control of the apartment building she was living in.
The 38-year-old filmmaker’s apartment was close to the fighting, so she didn’t have time to pack. She grabbed essential documents and a change of clothes and fled – leaving behind the rest of her belongings, including her camera and cat.
“I thought the fighting would stop in a couple of days and that it would return back to normal,” she said. “I left my whole life in that apartment.”
Another resident of Khartoum, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, said that he sent a relative to retrieve essential documents when he heard that the RSF had occupied his family’s home after they fled.
“He went [to the home] and saw eight or nine [RSF] fighters there. He was able to get the documents. He got in and got out,” he said. “Sometimes you come across honest guys [in the RSF] that just want to make a quick buck. Other times, you come across some really cruel people.”
Dozens of people have posted similar stories across social media, mainly over Twitter and in private WhatsApp groups.
Aziz Musa, a chairman of a digital marketing agency in Sudan, posted that almost every home in his neighbourhood is occupied by RSF fighters.
“RSF have looted almost every house and are staying [inside] them 3-8 soldiers at a time,” he tweeted.
— 🇸🇩🇬🇧Aziz Musa (@azizmusa) May 6, 2023
A report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) released on May 4 also cited several witnesses who said that RSF fighters were sleeping in their apartment buildings or firing anti-aircraft cannons from their buildings or neighbourhoods.
Referencing international law, HRW said that all parties in a conflict must avoid making civilian objects deliberate targets of war.
“Both sides should abide by the laws of war, including the prohibition on indiscriminate attacks, take all feasible measures to reduce civilian harm and allow the safe movement of civilians, treat everyone in custody humanely, and facilitate humanitarian access to people in need,” HRW said.
The Sudanese army could also be implicated in violating these laws for its role in indiscriminately shelling and bombing civilian neighbourhoods without warning, the report added.
Along with residents of the capital, the RSF has also evicted medical staff and taken control of 22 hospitals in Khartoum, according to a statement released by resistance committees, which are neighbourhood groups mobilising to rescue people in the war.
— Mohamed Suliman (@MuhammedKambal) May 5, 2023
Resistance committees have tried to compensate for the lack of medical facilities by opening up what they call “emergency rooms”, which are makeshift clinics that provide first aid to the wounded.
However, the committees neither have the equipment nor medics to save people from significant injuries such as gunshot wounds. Thousands of patients who needed hospital treatment before the war – such as those requiring kidney dialysis – are also expected to die if they haven’t already.
“We can’t take cases [of people] who have cancer or kidney failure,” said Dania Atabani, a member of a resistance committee, in reference to the lack of capabilities of the makeshift clinics. “And if we’re unable to physically help people … we try to find other places or hospitals [where we can take them].”
Several witnesses said the RSF has also taken control of one of the leading medical supply warehouses. According to Sudan’s Union of Pharmacists, that move has disrupted the supply of vital medications such as insulin.
“The closure of the Medical Supplies Center is a health disaster since it provides life-saving medications, including drugs for blood pressure, diabetes… and other medical equipment which is scarce at the moment,” the union said in a Facebook statement.
“We condemn this criminal behaviour and the systematic attack on health facilities since it is a brutal violation of the right of patients to obtain their medications,” the Union added.
El-Gadi, the 77-year-old who is now safely in the UK, is also a pharmaceutical supplier in Sudan. He said that his company’s warehouse was looted and blamed criminals for exploiting the chaos to enrich themselves.
His staff told has informed him that looters had taken everything. They fired machine guns at security safes to pry them open and stole the money and gold locked inside. Cars, desks and tables were also stolen, while medications were emptied from refrigerators, which will soon render them ineffective.
El-Gadi said that one of his security guards ran away and asked nearby RSF fighters to stop the looters, but they did nothing.
“[The RSF] told him to go get a gun and help himself … they said guns are available everywhere. They told him that [Sudan] is the land of guns,” he said.