As another war broke out in a distant country last month, you might have missed the headlines in the patchy Australian media coverage: Sudan, and in particular its capital city Khartoum, is caught in a brutal war between the Sudanese Army and a paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces. As news reports depict chaotic scenes in a sprawling desert city, it may be hard to imagine what life might be like for those left behind, or to consider its relevance as you plan your next class, prepare assignments or work on subjects for the coming semester.
But for some in our university community, this is a very personal crisis. An Australian of Sudanese origin, Elham Hafiz is an Inclusive Practices Support Officer in the LX.lab, Equity Ambassador at the UTS Centre for Social Justice & Inclusion, and a UTS Medical Science graduate. With close friends and family caught in the latest conflict, Elham shares her knowledge here and suggestions for how you can support students and colleagues in this, or indeed other global conflicts.
What is happening in Sudan?
On April 15, the Sudanese Army (SAF) and the paramilitary group the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) unleashed a war in the capital of Sudan, Khartoum. There seems to be a misconception that this level of violence is normal in Sudan, or Africa, and I am here to tell you that it is not.
In its first four weeks, this needless war has killed at least 1,000 people, and injured over 5,000. It has been estimated that about 700,000 people have been internally displaced and over 200,000 have fled to neighbouring countries. Escape routes have been unsafe and extremely expensive, making it only accessible to foreign nationals and the wealthiest Sudanese.
Who does this impact?
The 2016 Australian census estimated 17,031 Sudanese-born Australians, with many more of Sudanese origin born in Australia, and not captured by the census. Many will have extended family, friends and strong memories based in Sudan, even if they have not lived there recently.
You may have students or university colleagues who are directly impacted by the unfolding humanitarian crisis happening in Sudan, or others who have undergone similar traumatic experiences in their own countries, whether it be an outbreak of war, or catastrophic natural disasters such as the recent earthquake in Türkiye. Students from conflict zones may not ask for help or be aware that help is available to them; many students and colleagues struggle on through assignments, exams and other challenges without ever revealing the strain they are under.
How can we help?
These are times when being part of an inclusive, supportive university community can make all the difference to individuals and their families, who may be far away from loved ones and support networks. In this particular case, here are a few ways you can help:
- Check in on any Sudanese people you know! They’re all going through a difficult time, and it’s likely they already know someone who has died or was significantly impacted by the situation.
- Stay informed. News coverage has been notoriously inaccurate at best, spreading disinformation and creating real harm at worst. Since the start of the 2018/19 Sudanese revolution, social media has been a powerful tool for organising peaceful protests and circulating accurate, fact checked, and up-to-date information. During that time, a few Sudanese activists from across the diaspora have stood out for their efforts. You can find them on Instagram and Twitter on the following handles: @Bsonblast, @khalidalbaih, @yousraelbagir, @tartola0123. You can find more information (include reputable organisations for donating) on the Keep Eyes On Sudan website.
- Challenge your biases, and where appropriate, encourage students to engage critically with the conversation. You could prompt them to consider questions such as differing media coverage of this compared with other global conflicts. Why has the Sudanese conflict not garnered a similar response from the world, Australia, and the average person?
What assistance is available to UTS staff and students who are affected?
If you or others you know have been affected by this or any other experiences, you can reach out through the UTS Employee Assistance Program (EAP) on Sharepoint, where you can access free counselling, coaching and other support.
As well as checking in with your students individually, you can refer them to UTS counselling services for help with a wide range of personal, psychological, study-related and administrative difficulties.