Women collecting water at a distribution point in Alacha camp, eastern Chad.
Conflict in Sudan

How women would do anything to save their family amid brutal Sudanese war

Since the war started in Sudan in 2023, more than 550,00 Sudanese have fled to eastern Chad. People have fled violent ethnic attacks, brutal violence and killings. Most of the people who fled to Chad were women and children, as men have been killed, detained or disappeared in Sudan. Left as the sole provider for the family, Sudanese women are now bearing the full responsibility of caring for their families.

Living in horrible conditions in camps in isolated desert areas, such as Metche and Aboutengue, these families depend fully on humanitarian aid. For months on end, the humanitarian response in eastern Chad has been fully inadequate. Refugees are struggling to have access to essential basic services, such as food and water, and are living in unacceptable and undignified conditions, further exposing them to health and protection risks. 

In Metche and Aboutengue, MSF teams are providing maternity and pediatric care, treating children for malnutrition, primary care, and the water and sanitation teams are distributing most of the water in the camps. Despite MSF´s efforts, the humanitarian response is inadequate, and MSF has been persistently calling for an immediate scale-up to meet the immense needs. 

This collection of testimonials serves as a powerful reminder of these women’s courage and unwavering determination in protecting their families while fleeing ethnic violence in Darfur. They fled during the brutal attacks in El Geneina around 15-16th of June and made the dangerous journey to neighbouring Chad, arriving in Aboutengue and Metche refugee camp around July 2023.

Taiba I think that if I hadn’t lied about being Masalit, we would have died that day

“I think that if I hadn’t lied about being Masalit, we would have died that day”

Taiba arrived in Aboutengue camp in July 2023, after fleeing the brutal Sudanese war with her husband Bashir and their two eldest children: Aya (6 years) and Ayoub (2 years). Their youngest, Ayat, was born four months ago in the MSF emergency hospital that was set up in Aboutengue to bring healthcare closer to the population in need. 

“That day [16 June], I was at home with our two kids and my husband was out nearby. Numerous armed men attacked and looted the area. They took our car and entered our house. They threatened me with a gun to my neck and asked, “what tribe are you?”. We are from the Masalit tribe, but to save our lives, I denied the truth and replied, “I’m from Borgo, I’m not Masalit.” They forced me to speak in the Borgo language to make sure I was telling the truth. Fortunately, I managed to speak a few words and they let me go. Some of my neighbours are from the Borgo tribe so over the years I’ve learned some words from them, just in case. I think that if I hadn’t lied about being Masalit, we would have died that day.” 

“I’d heard from neighbours that in previous attacks the armed men had ordered boys out of the house and killed them, solely based on their gender. Some even check the trousers of little boys. So, we’d got in the habit of dressing our boys as girls. Ayoub was about a year old at that time, but I still dressed him as a girl, so he would not get hurt.”

“Before leaving our house, they took whatever they could steal and told me to leave, saying, ‘it is not safe for you to stay here because another team of armed men is coming, and they are more frustrated. You must leave now.’ I didn’t have much time so I took my kids and the few things I could carry with me, like kids’ clothes. But as we made the journey towards the border these were also stolen by armed men – they won’t allow us to cross the border with anything.”

“When I left the house, I saw a lot of people dead on the road. Some of the bodies were decomposing. It was horrible to see. Some of my neighbours had been killed. I fled with the other survivors. On the way, I managed to find my husband and we joined the crowd of people fleeing together. We got stopped twice on the way. People were killed. The first time’, armed men started shooting at the crowd. My husband got shot in his right foot – he could barely walk. The second time, armed men attacked us again. They kicked me, and they badly beat my husband with a stick. After this, he could barely move so I tried to carry him as much as I could with my young baby Ayoub in my arms. A woman kindly offered to take care of my daughter Aya as I strove to carry my husband and son.” 

“On the last stop of our journey, I tried to find my daughter again, shouting her name among the crowd. At last, we found her, still with the woman who had looked after her. I felt so relieved. In the village, I also met the army who told me to leave my husband there and go to Adré to ask for help at the hospital. It us took us four days before managing to reach Adré. At the hospital, we were taken care of by the medical teams, supported by MSF, and had surgery and treatment. That was when we got the news that my husband’s left arm and leg were paralysed for life, because of the beating.”

“Our kids are traumatised by everything they saw on the way. When they hear gunshots or loud noises, even loud voices, they hide and cover their ears, crying. The eldest one keeps asking questions about what has happened, why we were not safe and what will happen now.”

“In El Geneina, before the war, our life was great. I was a midwife working at the hospital, and my husband was a businessman, trading cars. Once Sudan is safe, we will go back because life here is so difficult, we suffer without access to basics: food, water, school, work. We have no bed, no mattress, we lack many things. The only food we get is from humanitarian organisations. Sometimes people in the community support us and give us a bit of food. But there is nothing we can do here, there is no work, no lands, there is no way for us to save ourselves. I am the only one taking care of my family. My husband cannot move because of his paralysis so I must do everything, from carrying the water to finding food.”  

Her husband broke down in tears while listening to his wife’s words. 


Gamera Here in the camp, we don’t have anything. Sometimes my kids even must beg for food
Gamera (on the left) and Jeta (on the right) have fled together the brutal Sudanese war in June 2023 with Jeta’s five children.

“Early in the morning, armed men attacked our home,” says Gamera. “They called my three sons into one room and made us [the women] leave the house. I begged them not to kill my boys, told them that they were innocent, as they somehow accused them of being spies. But then I heard the gunshots. When I came back to the house, I saw the bodies lying on the floor. One of my sons was shot in his chest, the other his head, and the third in the neck. Then the armed men threatened me with a knife to my throat and stole our money and phones. They even checked my body to see if I was hiding anything. As they left, they set the house on fire.”

“We fled on foot from El Geneina to the border with Chad. We saw a lot of dead bodies on the way. It was very crowded, and we lost each other in the flow of people. It was only after crossing the border that we found each other again,” Gamera continues. “We could not find any clean water. It was the rainy season, and we’d found some rainwater on the way, and we slept under tree at night because of the downpours. We had a few clothes with us, but the armed men did not allow us to cross the border with these. Arriving in Adré, we found refuge in a school building. An organisation gave us food and vaccinated the children.”
Jeta continues: “My dad [Gamera’s husband] was killed two years ago during a previous violent attack, and my husband disappeared around the same time – I don’t know if he is dead or alive. So, my two boys Abdel Aman and Mohamad are the only men remaining in the family. I did what I could to protect them as we fled. I dressed them in girls' clothes, so they won’t be killed. But my oldest one was discovered and beaten until he was in a coma. I was very worried, but when we managed to reach Adré, they took care of him at the hospital [supported by MSF teams] and he is better now.”  
“After a few weeks in Adré, I became ill myself and spent about twenty days in the hospital, supported by MSF teams. It is only after that that we got moved to Aboutengue camp. I was able to officially register as a refugee and got a shelter for me and my five children. My mum [Gamera] did not directly get the registration so does not have anything – she is staying with us. But we don’t have enough, we depend 100% on what humanitarian organisations give us. Sometimes my kids must beg for food in the camp. They don’t go to school; they don’t do anything here,” shares Jeta with emotion. Upon their arrival at Aboutengue camp in July, Jeta ’s youngest daughter, Sana, was suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Sana was successfully treated in the therapeutic feeding programme of the emergency hospital set up by MSF teams.  
“Our life in Sudan was good. We had our house, enough food and comfort. We were working. I was a nanny and housekeeper. Even if we could go back to Sudan, everything is destroyed now – what will we do? What will happened to us now? We don’t feel safe anywhere. Yes, it is better here than the massacres in Sudan, but sometimes here in the camp there is criminality. We don’t have any protection, except each other. It’s worse for my children, they are still afraid, crying and panicking every time they hear a loud sound,” concludes Jeta.

Malak The food we received from the last distribution has already finished. I feel restricted and helpless.”
Sudanese refugee Malak, 39, living in Metche camp, eastern Chad.

I opposed the idea, but he went there, where he was killed. He was an innocent person. Me and my brothers and his brothers kept searching for him for four days. Finally, there was a strange smell where we were searching. They searched until they found him and told us that his body was there. His name: Jaafar, and he was 42 years old. At the time, there were too many shooters, so his brothers and some neighbors had sneak in to retrieve his body so we could bury him.
When I arrived to Adré, I couldn´t find my mother and three of my children. I searched for them for four days. When I finally found my mother, she was in a terrible state. I was reunited with my children. We stayed two months in Adré, until we settled here in Metche, where I gave birth to my child. 
We face a lot of difficulties getting food and water. Now, I am alone with my eight children, without my mother and my sisters, because we separated. She´s in Adré and I´m here. My mother can't live here, she has diabetes. It’s been 6 months since I have seen her.

We don´t have any belongings. We came with these clothes. In Sudan, we lived a better life, and people helped each other. Now we have nothing, my whole house burned down. Here we can´t help each other and we have no source of income. We have nothing.
If I find a job, I will work. Now we depend entirely on organizations, and we eat cornbread, black eye pea, and receive some water. The food we received from the last distribution has already finished. 
I feel restricted and helpless. I don´t have any source of income to buy food. I hope to return to Sudan in peace and secure.

Ruqaya All the responsibilities fall on me. I am now the mother and the father
Sudanese Ruqaya, 25, refugee based in Metche camp, eastern Chad.

My name is Ruqaya, I´m 25 years old. I lost my husband in El Geneina on June 15, when the fighting escalated that day. He is missing and so is his family. I have two children and the living conditions are very difficult, and I have no one to support us. All the responsibilities fall on me. I am now the mother and the father. I´m responsible for food, water, shelter and providing treatment if the children get sick.

I must manage and deal with everything on my own. People here are hungry and thirsty. There is no food. There is no security in Sudan, and we cannot return. We are living day by day.

I don't know if my husband is alive or dead. I don´t know where our family members are. We have been scattered between Sudan and here, and we have no news of them. I want to search for my husband and get some answers to see if he is alive or dead. His name is Issam, he is 45 years old. He has green eyes, but isn´t tall.