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the explainer

'I couldn't reach my kids for five days': Ireland-based doctor describes outbreak of war in Sudan

“Some people were praying, some people were crying.”

The Journal / YouTube

A DOCTOR BASED in St James’s Hospital, Dublin, was separated from her children for five days following the outbreak of war in Khartoum.

Dr Sulafa Salama, an internal medicine specialist who has been living in Ireland for five years, was visiting relatives in Sudan for Ramadan and Eid when the conflict severely escalated.

“We were only there for 11 days before the war started. And the night of 13th of April, I actually brought my two kids for a sleepover at their cousin’s house. And I was back home at 3am,” she told The Journal.

“I just slept for a few hours woke up at 8am to find war had broken. I was separated from my two kids for five days, because there was bombing and gunshots outside, it was terrible. It was a complete blackout of power. People were panicking was lack of food, lack of fuel, lack of everything.”

Speaking to this week’s episode of The Explainer podcast, Sulafa said that the bridge to North Khartoum, where her children were staying with their cousin, was blocked by Rapid Support Forces, separating them from her for five days. 

Listen to the episode in full at the link below, or wherever you get your podcasts. We’re also joined by Dr Aia Mohamed, assistant professor at Trinity College Dublin, who speaks to us about how her father was visiting Sudan when the fighting broke out.

When finally able to get back to her children, Sulafa stayed in a house with her extended family, surrounded by the noise of gunfire, and sweltering temperatures of 45 degrees Celsius.

“We could very clearly, very closely, hear the bombing outside and the gunshots,” Sulafa said.

“Some people were like panicking and having panic attacks. Some people were praying, some people were crying. Kids were terrified. And that was the first day of it. I couldn’t just describe how badly we were feeling.”

Eventually, Sulafa was able to leave Sudan via a military air base. 

“The airbase condition was a disaster to be honest. There was loads of people there and they weren’t granted access to aircraft,” she said, noting that she knew one doctor personally who works in Ireland, with children eligible for Irish citizenship, who were denied access to the aircraft.

Much of Sulafa’s family remains in Sudan, though they have since left Khartoum, where the conflict is most dangerous. Sulafa is still concerned for their wellbeing, and has advocated for an “alternative pathway” for family members to join her in Ireland.

“There is no way it’s going to function anytime soon, there should be some sort of an alternative pathway for me to bring over my family,” she said.

“I’m happy to host them in my house, I’m happy to to sponsor them and everything, but I just need to know that they are safe.”

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