Crisis in Khartoum: Catholic Mission Sheltering Women and Children Struggles Amid Ongoing Conflict


July 3 (Reuters) – Trapped within the walls of a Catholic mission in Khartoum, Father Jacob Thelekkadan faces the grim reality of dwindling food supplies and escalating conflict. With dozens of women and children seeking refuge from the war raging on the streets outside, the priest has been forced to punch new holes in his belt as he grows thinner each day.

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Around 80 people, including women and children, are taking refuge inside the Dar Mariam mission, a Catholic church and school compound in Khartoum’s al-Shajara district. Caught in the crossfire between Sudan’s army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the mission has become a sanctuary amid the chaos, according to accounts from Father Thelekkadan and seven other individuals sheltering there.

The conflict has taken its toll on the mission’s infrastructure. The roof of the main building has been damaged by shells, and parts of the nuns’ quarters have been set ablaze. Stray bullets have left their mark on the mission’s walls, and as food supplies dwindle, the nuns have resorted to boiling tree leaves for the children, while many adults skip meals.

A Red Cross rescue attempt in December ended tragically when gunmen attacked the convoy, killing two people and wounding seven others, including three Red Cross staff members. The warring factions have traded blame for the attack. Despite offers from the army to evacuate across the river, Father Thelekkadan and the nuns refused to leave without the families.

“When the road is safe, we will be the first to leave, but with the people,” said Thelekkadan, a 69-year-old Indian national.

As the conflict erupted in April last year, many residents of Sudan’s capital fled. The RSF occupied strategic sites and residential neighborhoods, while the army responded with heavy artillery and airstrikes. The Dar Mariam mission became a refuge for those unable to flee due to financial constraints or lack of alternatives.

Photos shared with Reuters by Father Thelekkadan reveal the mission’s buildings littered with debris, walls riddled with bullet holes, and rooms blackened by smoke.

“Our food situation became very bad,” said Thelekkadan. “We’re all very weak.”

Extreme hunger has spread across Sudan, with famine warnings issued for several areas, including Khartoum. Some families sought shelter at the mission in June last year, hoping for protection from its concrete roof. However, the area soon became isolated as the RSF targeted a nearby strategic military base.

Evacuating by boat across the White Nile at night remains too risky for the children, Thelekkadan said. Sudan’s war has created the world’s largest internal displacement crisis, with nearly 10 million people seeking shelter within or outside the country, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Despite the dire circumstances, the mission’s residents have shown remarkable resilience. They have converted the most secure room into a shelter for the children, trying to distract them from the violence outside by allowing them to play video games and ride bicycles in the yard.

“We tried to not make them feel like they are in a prison,” Thelekkadan said.

In early January, the mission was again caught in the crossfire, setting parts of the nuns’ residence ablaze. Collecting food from local markets became nearly impossible due to ongoing clashes. Since February, the army has delivered some airdropped provisions to Dar Mariam, including sugar and fuel for generators. They also provided a Starlink connection, enabling those at the mission to use their phones again.

Sister Celestine, one of the nuns, expressed her fear and desire to leave. “I would like to be out of here,” she said. “I want to get out and write a book about everything that happened.”

Despite the hope for evacuation, the fighting shows no sign of abating. “These past four days have become very trying for all of us in Dar Mariam and people around as explosions, bombings, gunfire, etc., have become more intense and frequent!” Thelekkadan said in a message on June 19. “Please do continue to pray for us.”

By Naija247news
By Naija247news
Naija247news is an investigative news platform that tracks news on Nigerian Economy, Business, Politics, Financial and Africa and Global Economy.

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