Lost homes: How former Khartoum residents are seeing their homes occupied by soldiers

10 September 2023

Mohammed* was scrolling through posts on Facebook when he saw it. His own home, with soldiers inside, was in a video posted by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

“Even when I left home, I saw their cars under the tree in front of the house,” Mohammed. “It was really sad because when we left our house we left everything behind. We thought it would be two days or something and it will finish.”

But the video was a shock – and a sad confirmation of something Mohammed had feared. The soldiers had entered his home and his neighbours, and they were using his things as their own.

“The neighbourhood became like a military barracks, and they were sitting in the empty houses,” he said. “Even the mattress is from our house.”

A landscape view of the destruction taking place in Khartoum, July 2023 (Ayin)

Since mid-April, a war of domination between Sudan’s army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has taken place in Sudan, where Khartoum has witnessed some of the most intense fighting –inducing a mass exodus out of the capital city. 

Mohammed’s story is just one of hundreds of people finding out from afar that as the RSF has taken over parts of Khartoum, the soldiers have entered, looted, or occupied people’s property. And even as millions have fled, more people remain behind, caught amid the fighting, unable or unwilling to leave. In some cases, Khartoum residents have been forced to live with soldiers. 

Many people have taken to social media to share their stories, posting videos of the soldiers under the hashtag RSF_loots_houses

There are hundreds of such videos – in some, people appearing to be RSF soldiers are posing comfortably, lounging on couches and holding weaponry. 

Many other videos are filmed by neighbourhood residents walking through streets or houses showing the damage or how people got inside via broken gates or windows. In several of such videos, houses appear to have been looted, with books and possessions thrown around the house, clothes dumped from the closet, drawers pulled out, and a mattress pulled off the bed. The person filming points out the damage, shows where something may have been stolen, and even names the owners of each residence.

In some cases, people suspect the soldiers even intentionally scare people into fleeing. An August UN report claims the RSF issued a “warning to local communities to evacuate neighbouring areas to the armoured corps. Looting, occupation of and attacks on public institutions and private residences also continue to be reported.” Mohammed said when the soldiers came into his neighbourhood, they were firing for no reason, stoking fears that pushed people to leave. Now, he is settled in Egypt and doubts there is any chance to return.

But many others still want to go back. Ibrahim* is still in Sudan, in a nearby city taking shelter with his family. He’s been hoping to return to Khartoum when it’s possible, awaiting news from the few neighbours who stayed behind and sending family to check when they could. But he doesn’t know what will be left when he’s able to go back.

Soldiers occupying a home in Bahri, North Khartoum (social media)

“When things devolved into airstrikes and shells, people started to leave,” Ibrahim said. “My neighbourhood became almost empty – only two people stayed at the entrance to the neighbourhood, and a few at the other end.”

His father tried to return to check on the house, but he couldn’t get inside since the road was blocked by RSF vehicles and soldiers. 

Later a neighbour was able to gain access and check along the street, sharing a video to the neighbourhood WhatsApp group. In that video, a man walks from house to house in Ibrahim’s neighbourhood, showing how people have forced their way inside. Doors broken, gates bent so they could crawl underneath, possessions strewn on the ground. But the neighbour only walked along the road, and many of the residents – Ibrahim included – still haven’t managed to know exactly how much was taken from inside.

“I think they were looking for something light – money or gold or anything that can be transported easily,” Ibrahim said. “We are accusing the RSF of stealing from our house because they were the only ones in the neighbourhood.” 

Source: International Organization for Migration (IOM)

In the four months since the conflict surged in Khartoum state, the UN reports that over 2.5 million displaced people have left the area – more than a quarter of the region’s population of 9.4 million reported in a UN profile in March 2023. As with Ibrahim’s neighbourhood, many homes across the cities were left abandoned and empty amid the explosions.

Mustafa* even found that the looting followed him – it was happening in all the cities he travelled to. He first fled his own home in the Mohandeseen neighbourhood of Omdurman, Khartoum’s sister city, since it was too close to a targeted area and he wanted his family to stay in a safer location. They moved to their aunt’s house in Bet Almal. As the military started to group in that area and near the bridge, his aunt and father moved further on to the Duha neighbourhood, and then he left the city with his family. 

Soldiers take a photo of themselves after occupying a home in Khartoum (social media)

“After that, the militias entered the neighbourhood and stayed at people’s houses and my aunt’s house was one of the houses that they stayed in,” Mustafa said. Several neighbours had been keeping an eye on the houses and asked them why they were entering. “The RSF told her to go and everyone can take anything they want,” he said. “According to what we heard, because no one was able to reach home, they took everything from our house.”

Later, another neighbour reported the RSF soldiers had come with tools and stolen his father’s car – a Toyota Hilux – from the house as well. They’d left it behind fearing it would make them a target since the type of car is in high demand. The neighbour said the car was moved down the road, where it’s suspected they are repairing vehicles with stolen parts. 

“They took everything they wanted and allowed the thieves to steal as well,” Mustafa said. “We ask God to compensate us for our loss.”

If ever the family were to return, they don’t know what they would find, says Mustafa. They still don’t know how much was taken or damaged, but neighbours are reporting missing items when they can. In a time of uncertainty, where the future for many displaced Sudanese families remains painfully unpredictable, the damage to their houses is just one more unknown.

* Names changed to protect their identities