When two Rapid Support Force (RSF) soldiers stormed Nadir el-Gadi’s home in Khartoum on 23 April, they demanded to know which side of the conflict in Sudan he was supporting – the RSF or the Sudanese army.
The 77-year-old replied that he did not support either side.
“I said that 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’s no one in the house?'”
The soldiers eventually left and el-Gadi was unhurt, but others were not so lucky. The RSF reportedly raided hundreds of homes, often evicting and attacking residents or looting their belongings — sometimes both.
According to activists, witnesses and human rights groups, the raids are part of a wider trend that has seen the RSF push deeper into residential areas by turning apartments and even hospitals into military outposts.
Before el-Gadi’s home was searched, he was told by his nephew that he was fleeing to Egypt with other relatives. He urged his uncle to come, but el-Gadi, a British-Sudanese, said he was on the evacuee list and expected the British government to remove him within a week.
Frightened by the Rapid Support Forces soldiers, he calls his nephew back to let him know he’s changed his mind and wants to go.
“Our nephew told us it was not safe for us to stay [at home] No more,” el-Gadi said. “[My nephew] An experienced driver was dispatched and we left home with two small bags. “
In the first few days after the April 15 clashes between RSF fighters and Sudanese troops, many fled the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, only to later learn that RSF fighters had looted or occupied their homes.
Sara Awad recalls calling her neighbor on the 10th day of the conflict. She was told that RSF fighters had looted everything and taken control of the apartment building where she lived.
The 38-year-old filmmaker’s apartment is close to the fight, so she doesn’t have time to pack. She grabbed the necessary paperwork 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 few days and everything would go back to normal,” she said. “I’ve kept my whole life in that apartment.”
Another Khartoum resident, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals, said that when he heard the RSF occupied his family’s home after they fled, he sent a relative to retrieve important documents.
“he goes [to the home] see eight or nine [RSF] fighters there. He was able to get the documents.He comes in and goes out,” he said. “Sometimes you meet honest people [in the RSF] That’s just trying to make a quick buck. Other times, you’ll meet some pretty brutal people. “
Dozens of people have posted similar stories on social media, mostly via Twitter and private WhatsApp groups.
Aziz Musa, chairman of a digital marketing agency in Sudan, posted that almost every house in his neighborhood was occupied by RSF fighters.
“The RSF ransacked almost every house and left [inside] They have 3-8 soldiers at a time,” he tweeted.
I’m still in the Kafouri neighborhood WhatsApp group. RSF ransacked almost every house with 3-8 soldiers left inside at a time #KeepEyesOnSudan #sudan_update
– 🇸🇩🇬🇧 Aziz Musa (@azizmusa) May 6, 2023
A report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on 4 May also cited several witnesses who said RSF fighters were sleeping in their apartment buildings or firing anti-aircraft guns from their buildings or neighbourhoods.
Citing international law, Human Rights Watch said parties to a conflict must refrain from making civilian objects deliberate targets of war.
“Both sides should abide by the laws of war, including prohibiting indiscriminate attacks, take all feasible measures to reduce civilian harm and allow civilians to move safely, treat all detainees humanely, and provide humanitarian assistance to those in need,” Human Rights Watch said.
The report added that the Sudanese army may also be suspected of violating these laws by shelling and bombing civilian communities indiscriminately and without warning.
The RSF, along with residents of the capital, expelled medical staff and took control of 22 hospitals in Khartoum, according to a statement released by the Resistance Council, a community group mobilized to rescue war fighters.
RSF militias are controlling and using 22 hospitals as shields, according to an urgent humanitarian appeal issued by the Khartoum Resistance Council! #Sudan pic.twitter.com/hJb0BdrmV6
— Muhammad Suliman (@MuhammedKambal) May 5, 2023
Resistance committees have tried to make up for the lack of medical facilities by opening what they call “emergency rooms,” makeshift clinics that provide first aid to the wounded.
However, the council has neither the equipment nor the medical personnel to save people from major injuries such as gunshot wounds. Thousands of patients who required hospitalization before the war — for example, those requiring kidney dialysis — were also expected to die if they had not received treatment.
“We cannot accept [of people] people with cancer or kidney failure,” resistance committee member Dania Atabani said, referring to the lack of capacity in makeshift clinics. “If we can’t help people physically … we’ll try to Find another place or hospital [where we can take them]”
The RSF also took control of a major medical supplies warehouse, several witnesses said. According to the Sudan Pharmacists Union, the move disrupted the supply of vital medicines such as insulin.
“The closure of the Medical Supplies Center is a health disaster as it provides life-saving medicines including those for blood pressure, diabetes…and other medical equipment that is currently scarce,” the union said in a Facebook statement.
“We condemn this crime and systematic attack on healthcare facilities as a gross violation of patients’ right to access medicines,” the coalition added.
El-Gadi, 77, who is also a drug supplier in Sudan, is now safely in the UK. He said his company’s warehouse was looted and accused criminals of taking advantage of the chaos to enrich themselves.
His staff told him the looters had taken everything. They machine-gunned the safe, broke it open, and stole the money and gold locked inside. Cars, desks and tables were also stolen, and refrigerators were emptied of medication, which would expire quickly.
El-Gadi said one of his security guards fled and asked nearby RSF fighters to stop the looters, but they did nothing.
“[The RSF] Tell him to get a gun and save himself…they say there are guns everywhere.they told him [Sudan] It’s the land of guns,” he said.