Tens of thousands flee camp in Sudan after attacks by RSF paramilitaries

<span>People crossing the border into Chad last year after fleeing the fighting in Darfur.</span><span>Photograph: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters</span>
People crossing the border into Chad last year after fleeing the fighting in Darfur.Photograph: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters

Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes in a displacement camp in the city of El Fasher in Sudan’s Darfur region after attacks by the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group, as concern grows that Darfur is facing another genocide.

The RSF has besieged the city for weeks, aiming to take the last major population centre in Darfur that it does not control. Hundreds of thousands are sheltering there after fleeing other cities taken by the group over the past year.

Related: Death, disease and despair as fighting closes in on besieged Sudanese city

About 60% of the more than 100,000 inhabitants of the Abu Shouk camp fled on Thursday, according to the Coordinating Committee for Refugees and Displaced People, which oversees camps in the region.

While there have been intermittent clashes between the RSF and the Sudanese military near Abu Shouk in recent weeks, the violence appears to have escalated over the past few days.

“Things are getting bad: fighting, killing, displacement,” said one person at Abu Shouk, who said the RSF had entered the camp.

Minni Minnawi, the leader of a faction of the Sudanese Liberation Movement, a rebel group allied to the army, shared a video on Thursday of homes on fire, which he said was the aftermath of RSF bombardment of the camp.

“The RSF deliberately bombed the Abu Shouk camp when they entered it and looted it,” he wrote on X, accusing it of attacking the camp because it had been unable to defeat the army and allied militias.

He compared the attack to the methods of the Janjaweed, the ethnic Arab militias from which the RSF was formed that were accused of carrying out a genocide against non-Arab ethnic groups in Darfur in the 2000s.

The activist group Darfur Victims Support shared a video it had received from Abu Shouk of smoke rising in the background. The narrator said it was the result of the RSF entering the camp on Friday.


Located on the northern outskirts of El Fasher, Abu Shouk hosted 100,000 people before the recent exodus, and is one of several long-established camps for people displaced by the violence of the 2000s. It has also taken in arrivals from the current conflict, which broke out in April last year in the capital, Khartoum, with the military and allied militia pitted against the RSF and its allies.

The Yale Humanitarian Research Lab, which uses open-source material to monitor conflicts, said on Thursday that satellite imagery showing damage in Abu Shouk and elsewhere around El Fasher indicated the RSF was present in several civilian areas and was attacking the city from several directions.

The attacks on El Fasher follow several months of mounting pressure by the RSF, which has encircled the city. The Humanitarian Research Lab estimates 30 communities were attacked during that time, often with widespread use of arson that forced their populations to leave.

The RSF has been accused of atrocities, including massacres of civilians, during and after fighting for other cities in Darfur last year.

Alice Wairimu Nderitu, the UN’s special adviser to the secretary general on the prevention of genocide, told the BBC there were signs that “a genocide could be occurring or has occurred”.

Jeremy Konyndyk, the president of the charity Refugees International, said it had heard from refugees who fled to Chad after previous RSF attacks in which it had gone from house to house to kill fighting-age males.

“That has been the pattern in many cities across Darfur as they have fallen to the RSF. It’s Janjaweed tactics again in 2023-24, carried out by the same forces that once were called the Janjaweed but now are called the RSF,” he said.

The humanitarian situation in El Fasher is catastrophic. The UN said on Thursday that the only operating hospital had 10 days of supplies remaining. Access was severely disrupted and a dozen trucks carrying aid had been unable to reach the city for more than a month, it added.

The medical aid charity Médecins Sans Frontières began evacuating staff this week because of the security situation, though it said it would continue operations.

While the number of those killed as a result of the fighting is unclear, with many people unable to reach hospitals, MSF said that as of 10 May it had treated 700 casualties, of whom 85 had died.