Sudan conflict: Grandmother died trapped by fighting in Khartoum
Azhaar Sholgami tries to bury her grandmother.
No one knows how long the elderly woman had been dead. She was trapped in her home in Khartoum, by the fierce battle between Sudan’s warring generals.
Azhaar was watching her from New York and desperately trying to rescue her. She is now desperately trying to retrieve her body.
She is not alone. The violence in the capital of Sudan has made it difficult to collect the dead.
The humanitarian agreement signed by both sides on Friday in Jeddah commits them to help aid workers register, collect and bury the dead.
“We keep on seeing dead bodies on the street, and hospitals that are out of service,” says Patrick Youssef, the Africa Regional Director for the International Committee of the Red Cross. “I hope the new declaration of humanitarian principles can truly allow for humanitarian corridors.”
So far it hasn’t, because the parties have yet to secure a truce to turn their promises on paper into reality.
Azhaar’s grandparents, Abdalla Sholgami and Alaweya Reshwan, got stuck in the heat of the fighting. They lived on Baladiya Street in Khartoum, next to the military headquarters and the British embassy. It became a battlefield for the two warring parties – Sudan’s army, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
Mr. Sholgami, a British citizen, was shot three times, leaving his disabled wife alone at home. He somehow survived, and his family is now trying to evacuate him from Sudan.
But there was no word about his wife and Azhaar’s grandmother, Alaweya. Weeks of Azhaar’s frantic phone calls to the British embassy failed to get help.
Her grandparents couldn’t make their way to the airfield for the evacuation of British citizens, so they were left stuck in Khartoum.
Three days ago she got a call from the Turkish embassy, also located next to the house, saying her grandmother was dead.
Azhaar didn’t want to believe it.
“I called back again and said, ‘Maybe she’s in a coma, did you check her pulse? Did you check her body, see if her heart is beating?’ And then he tells me that her body’s been decaying,” she says.
“It’s quite painful to think that she was alone, with no electricity in the midst of the heat – it’s really hot in Sudan right now – waking up to bomb sounds.”
Another woman we spoke to had an uncle, Ahmad, who lived in a nearby neighborhood. She didn’t want us to reveal her name because she feared she might be targeted but she told us this story.
Ahmad’s family was gathering at the home of a relative so they could evacuate together. He realized he’d forgotten his paperwork, so he returned to his home in the Riyadh neighborhood and never came back.
Khartoum remains gripped by violence
Six days later his brother got a call from someone trying to identify a body lying in front of Ahmad’s house.
The person said Ahmad had found RSF fighters in his home. The situation escalated, they killed him, looted the place, and left.
Neighbors wrapped Ahmad in plastic bags until aid workers were able to arrive. They wanted to bury him right there because there was no garden, but the family refused to have him rest virtually in the street. So his body still lies there, encased in the plastic.
Azhaar is still trying to arrange for someone to pick up her grandmother’s remains. An organization that tried on the day the Jeddah Declaration was announced had to turn back because they got caught in a gunfight.
“I was very close to my grandmother,” she says. “And in our last conversation before I left for New York she said, I’m scared you’re going to leave me alone.”
“I laughed at her. I said, I’ll never leave you alone, no matter what, I’ll always be there… I feel I let her down.”