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This Sudanese refugee asks: Why is the world ignoring her country's crisis?

Eatizaz Yousif, the Sudan country director for the International Rescue Committee, poses for a portrait at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C. on June 24. She herself was displaced by the conflict a year ago. “As Sudanese, we are pretty resilient," she says, referring to the fighting that has caused 12 million people to flee from their homes. "But this is beyond our resilience."
Ben de la Cruz
/
NPR
Eatizaz Yousif, the Sudan country director for the International Rescue Committee, poses for a portrait at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C. on June 24. She herself was displaced by the conflict a year ago. “As Sudanese, we are pretty resilient," she says, referring to the fighting that has caused 12 million people to flee from their homes. "But this is beyond our resilience."

One week after a civil war tore through Sudan’s capital city Khartoum in April 2023, Eatizaz Yousif packed what she could, helped her mother, who is in a wheelchair, into the car and drove all night to find somewhere safe.

That was the first time Yousif became displaced. It would happen again and again to her and to 12 million other Sudanese people in the span of a year.

But Yousif is no ordinary displaced person. She is the country director for the International Rescue Committee, helping to manage the response to the massive humanitarian crisis her country has experienced as a result of the power struggle between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

Since that first evacuation, Yousif has carried the key to her house in Khartoum everywhere she goes in the hope that one day she’ll be able to go back home.

“I'm carrying this key for one year and I don’t know when I would put it back in the door, but I couldn't get rid of it,” Yousif said this week in an interview with NPR’s Leila Fadel during a visit to Washington, D.C., to accept the Humanitarian Award from InterAction, an alliance of global charities.

Yousif now lives in Port Sudan, a small city in Sudan that is hosting hundreds of thousands of displaced people, mostly from Khartoum.

Sudan is the world’s largest displacement crisis, according to the IRC and other aid organizations. On Thursday, a report by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification said that more than 25 million people in Sudan are facing acute food insecurity as the conflict has prevented people from accessing critical food and medical supplies.

“As Sudanese, we are pretty resilient. But this is beyond our resilience,” Yousif tells NPR.

Despite the immense scale of the humanitarian disaster, the international attention and response has been lacking, according to the IRC.

The United Nations says $2.7 billion is required for the humanitarian response in Sudan, but as of June 18, only 16% of that has been raised.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What has your life been like after you left Khartoum?

So I've been displaced out of Khartoum in April last year. And when I closed my house for the last time, I never saw that it will take this long. And for me, I saw a lot of crises and a lot of displacement but when it personally happens to you, you cannot really imagine what the situation will be and the feeling that you’ll have. And in less than one hour [the time it took to pack and leave] you were ripped out of your roots and now you consider yourself as IDP [internally displaced person].

Since April I almost slept in 50 different beds. I don't have a home, I don't have a room and I’ve been sleeping out of my suitcase since then, And I'm a head of [an] organization, so I'm being really supported. But just to replicate that on the normal Sudanese … you know we believe as Sudanese we are so resilient. But the resilience does indeed have a limit and I guess we got to that break point of that resilience, and we just want the war to stop.

And then looking at my own staff, in the frontline, that is supposed to be providing [support to displaced people]. Majority of them [have] been displaced not only one time. So they are struggling with their own safety, with their own family issues and struggling on a personal level and also remain committed to provide service to the community where they are needed.

What has this conflict done to Khartoum — and to Sudan?

Khartoum used to be the hub and the center and it really controlled the whole of Sudan. So all the nice schools, the nice houses, the services and everything. And that's the problem. Sudan is completely collapsed because Khartoum is not functioning, the banking system, the internet services, the government themselves, they cannot function.

For me, looking at Sudan, it’s not Sudan anymore. People are just waiting to go back home. That’s where they want to go. But [many people who used to live in Khartoum] are white collar, so their livelihood depends on the jobs. And since then they are left out of [a] job and the government completely failed to provide salaries to the government workers.

How are these displaced people getting by?

People in Sudan [are] relying on other Sudanese because we have a lot of people in the Gulf and in Saudi Arabia, even in Europe, they send money. And without that mutual support, I don't think the Sudanese in Sudan or outside Sudan would be surviving.

Eatizaz Yousif of Sudan says: "I'm telling you, it's a very, very, very, very painful operation for me personally when you see your own people that are suffering, your own country at the brink of collapsing, and then [warring parties] don't want to listen and still keep fighting without a clear objective."
Ben de la Cruz / NPR
/
NPR
Eatizaz Yousif of Sudan says: "I'm telling you, it's a very, very, very, very painful operation for me personally when you see your own people that are suffering, your own country at the brink of collapsing, and then [warring parties] don't want to listen and still keep fighting without a clear objective."

Is your house still standing in Khartoum?

Houses are being looted and destroyed. So all of us are expecting when we go back home, we’ll find the walls and maybe windows and doors. That’s what we are [at least] hoping to have if we are going back.

Why do you think this crisis in Sudan has gotten so little of the world's attention? The war has been going on for over a year, Sudan has the most internally displaced people in the world. Famine experts say at least 8.5 million people are experiencing high levels of malnutrition.  

I guess we are lacking the geopolitical aspect of it, not like other countries that are getting most of the attention from diplomacy and also the media. That is really sad with the human suffering that we have.

What do you mean by the lack of “geopolitical aspect”?

Because I guess we don't have a lot of influence, because I guess our geographical location is not having a huge importance like Palestine or even Ukraine.

I don't want to compare between crises. I do believe we are human and we are equal and we [should] get the same attention. And if you look at that, the destruction, what happened in Khartoum compared with Gaza. I guess it's really massive.

The [warring parties] don't want to listen and still keep fighting without a clear objective. I [find] it very strange because it looks like there's no incentive for the two parties to stop the conflict. No one holds any conflicting party [accountable] on any atrocity or any violation they are committing. So I do believe [Sudan is] not getting the right level of attention to hold them accountable.

I feel that our disagreement in Sudan is something that it can be easily resolved, not something very political. And it should really not get to this level of destruction and this massive suffering. So looking at that and seeing that your hand is really tied to provide support to your own people, that really is something very painful.

You’ve responded to humanitarian needs from many conflicts. Now you are working on a crisis in your own country. You're among the 12 million who have been displaced multiple times. How does that feel?

I'm telling you, it's a very, very, very, very painful operation for me personally when you see your own people that are suffering, your own country at the brink of collapsing.

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Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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