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"What we really need is support": The impact of the Sudanese conflict on the Sheffield community

The civil war in North Africa is being felt by many people here. By bringing the community together, the Sudanese Community Association in Sheffield is trying to stop the war coming to our city too.

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Group of Sudanese women taking part in Black History Month activities at Sheffield City Hall.

Sudanese Community Association in Sheffield

Sudan is being torn apart by civil war. Since fighting began in April 2023, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have destroyed huge sections of the North African nation. At least 16,000 people have been killed and more than ten million have been displaced, nine million of whom are still in Sudan. According to the IOM, the country is experiencing the world’s largest internal displacement crisis. Millions are facing serious food shortages.

The conflict is having a profound effect on Sudanese people wherever they are in the world, and the Sudanese Community Association in Sheffield is doing what it can to support people in the city. Sitting down to talk to Mutaz Abdelkarim, Sakina Omar and Abdallah Abdulrahim, who all live in Sheffield and have been involved with the association, the first thing that comes up in each conversation is how difficult it is to speak with loved ones in Sudan.

There is some patchy communication with people in the capital Khartoum, but on and off since the war began mobile and internet services have been either unavailable or intentionally cut across Sudan. Both armies blame the other for the blackouts. According to digital rights advocates Access Now, they have both been responsible for this "continued weaponization of internet shutdowns".

The result is that day by day, week by week, people don’t know what is happening in the country, and with friends and family who are there. It can be weeks before they can communicate, and often it’s only for a few short minutes at a time.

Sakina hasn’t spoken to a single Sudanese person in Sheffield who doesn’t have at least one loved one in the country. "Everyone is going through the same thing. Our families are huge, and sometimes in a family you can find a lot of people living in the same house. So you don’t just worry about your own siblings, but you worry about your cousin, you worry about your aunt and uncle, you worry about everyone. And this is even worse."

Sakina says her mum sometimes doesn’t sleep for two or three days, waiting to hear that her siblings are safe.


Members of the Sudanese community in Sheffield eating together during Ramadan.

Sudanese Community Association in Sheffield

Mutaz, Abdallah and Sakina all tell me that people in the community in Sheffield feel helpless, neglected and unseen, and their collective mental health is at an all-time low. Mutaz says the natural reaction is to look for somebody to blame and that social media has been a divisive space in the community for this reason.

With many people torn between warring factions at home, and with so much daily horror and uncertainty, they often turn to Facebook or WhatsApp to celebrate 'victories' or condemn the 'other side'. Mutaz feels this is dividing the community at a time when they need each other most. He doesn’t want the war to be fought inside the Sheffield community too, especially when so many of them are experiencing the same traumas as each other. "We are not in Sudan – we are here."

When I ask what they want from the wider city, they say that mental health support is needed more than ever in the community, with many isolated in their uncertainty and worry for their families in Sudan. On top of their struggles seemingly being invisible to most people in the UK, which isolates them even more, they have to deal with poor or non-existent translation and interpretation and a healthcare system that often excludes them by design.

Secondly, they say that although there have been some protests and events in Sheffield against the war in Sudan, the community needs support to bring wider attention to the conflict and its impacts, and to push politicians and the media to engage with it.

There are regular marches in bigger cities, Sakina tells me, but not in Sheffield. The community wants Sheffield Council and national government to recognise what’s happening in Sudan, apply pressure for an end to fighting and provide aid to the millions of people affected by the war.

Lastly, the Sudanese Community Association in Sheffield are looking for a physical space, after being unable to keep up with rent payments on their shared office at Spital Hill.

Abdallah feels that what the community needs at such a difficult time is "a space to join together and discuss our problems," and to be able to return to the activities they used to do together – music groups, football, youth activities and more. Many of the Sudanese community in Sheffield live in or near Burngreave, but the association would be happy with a space anywhere that is easily accessible by public transport. (You can contact Mutaz if you have an idea for a space the association could use.)

Sudanese customs and traditions can be an anchor for people, Mutaz believes, in particular when there isn’t a physical space for them to come together outside of family units, which have been fractured by the war. The Sudanese Community Association in Sheffield continues to offer all kinds of support, including to asylum seekers and those who are struggling with their mental health as a result of the traumas of the conflict.

Despite not having its own space, the association is continuing to organise gatherings, including during and after Ramadan, which recently concluded. Sakina tells me the association is "fostering connection, support and a sense of belonging," and trying to provide social distractions and "positive energy" for people at such a difficult time.

"Because just sitting, thinking about what’s going on in the country, doesn’t help that much. We’ve been thinking [about it] for a year and nothing has changed."

"At this moment, what we really need is support," Sakina adds. "If you ask any Sudanese person, 'How can we help you?', they would say, 'I would like this war to end'. But community support – this is what we really need at the moment. Because what we are going through is big. It’s really big."

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