After her three children were killed, a pregnant radio presenter gave birth to a baby boy on the border with Chad, fleeing the war in Sudan’s Darfur region on foot.
“I delivered on the street. There were no midwives and no one to support me. Everyone thinks about himself. Everyone runs for his life.
“The baby came out, I packed it. I didn’t think about anything else. I kept going to Adre,” Arafa Adom said when I met her in a refugee camp of tens of thousands of people on the outskirts of Chad.
The 38-year-old said she walked 25km in the hot sun with her four daughters from her home village of El Jenena, while her husband – for his own safety – took a longer and more difficult route to reach the camp.
“When I got to the border, I found her exhausted and exhausted until she gave birth to the baby,” said Mrs Adum, who named her son Mohammed after the Islamic prophet.
She left the bodies of her other sons after she said they were killed by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and allied Arab militias, who have been at the center of the fighting in Sudan since April.
Darfur is the worst-hit area, with the RSF and militias accused of trying to establish Arab supremacy in the area by “cleansing” black Africans – including Ms Adom Masalit’s community.
The Battle of El Jenena – Historically Darfur’s symbol of black African power and the capital of the Masalit Kingdom, the battle was unsurprisingly devastating.
“We tried to defend ourselves, but they used very large weapons,” said Sheikh Mohammed Yagoub, a prominent Muslim cleric and Masalit leader who is a refugee in Adre.
“We lost 82 people in three hours in one day in our area,” he added.
RSF says it is not involved in the fighting, but says Darfur’s resurgence is an old conflict between Arab groups and Masalites.
In a statement, Ms. Adom said her three children were killed after the El Jinnah University – where they were sheltering – was fired upon by the RSF and Janjaweed, known as Arab militias.
“The three children were hit by the shell and lost their lives,” Ms Adom said.
She also said that several members of her relatives were killed, including her father-in-law, who had both his legs “broken”, one of whose ears was cut off, and then “shot him to death”.
Mrs. Adoum and her husband fled with their four daughters, but the RSF man took roads to prevent them from passing through the road blocked by many refugees – Massalit killed men and boys, sometimes by throwing gasoline on them and putting them on fire.
The couple reunited in the refugee camp where they first raised Mohammed – a child they saw as a blessing after the deaths of three sons.
The Sheikh’s wife, Rahia Adum Abdelkarim, told me she was pregnant, but lost her baby the day after she arrived in Adree – hungry, tired and exhausted from the trek.
“I started bleeding. Then I got a headache, and all the blood was coming. Then at dawn the fetus came,” she said.
A field hospital was set up by a charity in Adre, but Ms. Abdelkarim could not get there for treatment.
The hospital is full of patients – mostly women, babies and children, some of whom have been shot.
One of the patients, Neema Ali, was shot by an RSF sniper as she and her nine-month-old son left their village.
The boy was strapped to her back, a bullet hit him in the leg, and “I narrowly missed my kidney on my side.”
“We were both bleeding and there was no one to help us,” she said, adding that she had to flee on foot until she reached the camp.
In order to stop the action, four East African countries called for the regional peacekeeping force to be deployed to Sudan, and Kenyan President William Ruto said that the country would be “destroyed”, raising concerns that there were signs of a “genocide campaign” in Darfur.
In 2021, conflict broke out almost 18 years after the United Nations (UN) and African Union peacekeeping forces left Darfur.
The conflict sparked global outrage and the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted Sudan’s then-governor Omar al-Bashir for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
As the peacekeepers left, the United Nations said the decision was “to allow the Sudanese government to assume responsibility for maintaining peace in the region.”
But Sudan has been plagued by coups since their withdrawal, and in mid-April, two of its most powerful generals—army chief Abdul Fattah al-Burhan and RSF commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemeti—took to each other and descended into civil war.
Their feud reignited the conflict in Darfur, forcing more than 160,000 members of the Masalit community to flee to Chad. It is not clear how many people were killed in the region, but the lowest estimate of the death toll in Elginina is 5,000.
According to Sudan Professional Pharmacists Association, the number is higher. He told the BBC that 11,000 bodies were buried in mass burials in the city, and some migrants saw corpses thrown into the river.
The RSF invaded the town of Zalinge, home to the Fur community, and besieged the two largest towns in the region, Fasher and Nyala.
Many Darfuris fear this is the end of a long-running plan to turn the ethnically mixed region into an Arab-led state.
El Jenna – along with many other towns and villages – has been emptied of most of its inhabitants, buildings and infrastructure – hospitals and water stations – have been destroyed.
“It’s worse than what happened in 2003,” Sheikh said, noting that Masalit’s most prominent figures – doctors and lawyers – were killed.
Ms Adoum – now a presenter at the silent Radio El Jeunena – was lucky to survive when the RSF raided the Broadcasting Corporation’s offices at the beginning of the war.
“They came in and smashed all the stuff and stole what they could,” she said.
Now Mrs. Adom lives in a hut made of sticks and clothes, not sure if she can return home.
“We came as refugees. Many died on the way. But we have to move,” she said, holding her three-week-old baby in her arms.
Another refugee said, “Who should I go back to?” “I have been here for weeks and the stench of the rotting corpses on the streets of El Gina refuses to leave my nostrils,” he said, adding that he would never return.