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Rayan Hishan Ali woke up one morning last month to a text message from her mother prepping her for what she’d be seeing on the news that day.
Their country, Sudan, was in the midst of conflict, her mother said from the family home in the capital, Khartoum.
“She called me and she said, ‘Hey, you’re gonna turn on the news. It’s gonna look crazy, but we’re fine,’” recalled the 21-year-old University of St. Thomas sophomore.
Ali, an engineering student, said her schoolwork keeps her occupied so she’s not always up-to-date on current events in her native Sudan. But Ali said she “hasn’t known peace” since that text from her mom.
“It’s just been really hard—it’s affected everything like my eating, sleeping,” Ali said. “I went to the ER last week, because I just needed fluids.”
Fighting between Sudan’s military and a rival paramilitary group broke out on April 15 after months of escalating tensions. Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan and the rival group, the Rapid Support Forces led by Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, are battling for control of the country, leading to heavy shelling and chaos.
Sudanese immigrants in Minnesota say they’re worried about their family in Sudan, especially those who live in Khartoum. Many immigrants from the country and neighboring South Sudan have called Minnesota home for several decades. Their exact numbers in the state are unclear.
Ali said it’s heartbreaking watching the news and seeing where the airstrikes have hit, because they’re places she knows. She grew up visiting many of the places that are now unrecognizable.
Airstrikes near the home where Ali grew up prompted her family to flee to Egypt. It took her parents and four siblings eight days to make it to Cairo. Ali wasn’t able to contact them for three of those days.
“I was just cut off from communication, and I didn’t know if my family was there, where they were, if they were in Egypt or Sudan, or alive or dead. I didn’t know,” said Ali, who is studying abroad in the United States and had planned to return to Sudan this summer.
Even though her family was able to escape, she worries for her friends and other countrymen.
United Nations agencies report that at least 334,000 people in Sudan have been displaced because of the fighting, and that tens of thousands have fled to the neighboring countries of Egypt, Chad, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and Ethiopia.
An estimated 550 people, including civilians, have been killed in the conflict and another 4,900 have been wounded.
Sana Morsi, 53, of St. Paul has been in the United States for nearly 20 years, but all of her family lives in Sudan, with most residing in Khartoum. She said grew concerned as soon as the conflict started.
Morsi said the local military pressured her sister to leave her home.
“They asked her to leave her house,” Morsi said. “She went to another family and waited three days to find a bus to travel outside of Khartoum.”
Morsi’s sister and her two children waited for the fighting to die down so it would be safe enough for them to catch a ride out of the city.
“The bus had 50 seats, but there were 95 people in the bus,” Morsi said.
An anxious Morsi received a call on the morning of April 24: Her sister, niece, and nephew had safely arrived in Egypt. A wave of relief washed over Morsi, but she said she’s still saddened to see others suffer in Khartoum. She has pledged to help people relocate however she can.
“We try to find any way to get our people out of Sudan,” Morsi said.
While Morsi’s family was leaving Sudan, Ali’s family was still debating whether to stay or go.
Ali initially disagreed with her parent’s decision to leave their home in Khartoum, because she felt the airstrikes were far enough from the family home. They told her they would run out of money for food and basic necessities in a few weeks because prices had skyrocketed due to the conflict.
Ali and other Sudanese students she’s in touch with in other countries don’t know if they’ll ever be able to return home.
“All of us are in this state of, ‘We didn’t know that when we left Sudan 10 months ago, we wouldn’t know when we were coming back,’” Ali said. “No one ever tells you how to deal with something like this. It feels like we’ve just been waiting to get back home, and someone just told you, ‘You’re homeless.’”
Ali visited Khartoum 10 months ago for four weeks. Before the conflict erupted, she had planned to return at some point in the future for a longer stay.
Ali came to the United States to finish her studies after earlier conflicts in Sudan interfered with her school schedule there. Ali said many of her former schoolmates also went abroad to finish their education, but a few remained in Sudan.
The Twin Cities’ Sudanese community rallied on April 22 in Columbia Heights with signs calling attention to the conflict in their home country, and plan to demonstrate again on Saturday, May 6 at Gold Medal Park in downtown Minneapolis at 11 a.m., according to Ali.
Morsi said the Sudanese American Community in Minnesota group is trying to organize a relief campaign the public can donate to, but that in the meantime, people who want to help can contact the group directly.
The associated press contributed to this report.