Academics call for humanitarian help in Darfur region

While Darfuri academics are appealing for urgent humanitarian support for the trapped population in the capital of West Darfur state, El-Geneina, and for Sudanese refugees who fled to neighbouring Chad due to the terror in the region, a United Nations report of a mass grave in the area has emerged.

The UN Human Rights Office issued a statement earlier in July stating that “the bodies of at least 87 ethnic Masalit and others, allegedly killed last month [June] by [the] Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and their allied militia in West Darfur, have been buried in a mass grave outside the region’s capital, El-Geneina, on the orders of the Rapid Support Forces”.

The UN statement follows a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) which reveals killings and other abuses against largely non-Arab ethnic groups in Sudan’s Darfur region since the fighting between the Sudanese army and the RSF started in April.

HRW warned of war crimes and called on the International Criminal Court to investigate them. The violence, including mass killings of men, women and children, echoes the atrocities of the Darfur war 20 years ago, which saw widespread ethnic cleansing.

These reports came after the Alliance and Network of Engineers of the University of Khartoum launched a campaign called Save El-Geneina.

Darfuri academics’ response

Speaking to University World News, Dr Isameldin Mirghani Abdelrahim, a former medical officer at the World Health Organization and one of the Darfuri academics who issued an appeal, called for urgent humanitarian intervention for Sudanese refugees and raised concern over the alleged “ethnic cleansing of the Massalit tribe”.

Another participant in the appeal, Dr Mahmoud Dugdug, a legal consultant and former lecturer at the Institute of Legal Studies in Qatar, told University World News the UN report indicated the human cost in the area.

“The atrocities and violence in Darfur demand accountability, meaningful justice for the victims and the affected communities, and an end to impunity,” Dugdug said.

Refugees include students and academics

Echoing the UN and HRW, the academics’ appeal stated that the situation in the city had worsened since 23 May when it was subjected to an attack by Janjaweed militias, which led to killings, including that of the governor of West Darfur, Khamis Abakar, and the displacement of about half of the city’s population to Chad, the Darfuri academics noted.

Abdelrahim said primary, secondary and high school learners as well as many students from the University of El Geneina, as well as lecturers, were affected. The dean of the faculty and the head of the university, Professor El Tayeb Ali Ahmed, escaped from the city while aggressors were trying to kill him and he is now in Chad as a refugee, said Abdelrahim.

Expanding further, another participant in the appeal, Dr Abdelillah Douda, who is based at the department of educational leadership and policy studies at the Southern Connecticut State University in the United States, told University World News that El Geneina University, was reduced to ashes by the Janjaweed.

“Among the victims are teachers and school principals, such as Superintendent Abdulrahman Mohamed Ahmed, who was 80 years old. He was killed and his body was thrown onto the street and left for several days,” Douda noted.

Dugdug added that all the five universities in the Darfur region, namely, El Fasher, Nyala, El Daein, Zalingei and El-Geneina, have been affected by the war.

Appeal for humanitarian intervention

The Darfuri academics said in their appeal that the suffering of the people of West Darfur appeared to have been forgotten by the international community.

“No humanitarian relief organisation has come to the areas where there are refugees to aid those fleeing the hell of war [and] who left their homes with nothing but the clothes they wore,” the group stated, calling for action.

Douda, who decried the silence of the international community, said: “We, the academics from West Darfur in the diaspora, have called on the international community to act quickly to protect innocent civilians, including academics and students in El Geneina, from the aggression of the Janjaweed militias.”

The academics ask for an immediate ceasefire between the fighting factions, the withdrawal of all armed forces from the regional city and their replacement with international forces capable of securing people’s lives, urgent humanitarian aid and the opening of safe passages for the movement of individuals, goods and workers as well as working towards establishing peace, Douda said.

“Among the suggested academic assistance for the university community is the transfer of all universities’ students, who are now in the refugee camps, to universities and educational institutions outside Chad,” Dugdug said, explaining that there were language barriers between higher education institutions in Sudan and Chad.

“The transfer of students should be made to countries that share the same language, culture and curriculum with Sudan, such as Egypt or other Arab countries,” he suggested.

“Thus, we call upon the international community to help university students and academics from West Darfur living in refugee camps,” said Dugdug.