Forced Migration: Conflict is Disrupting the Future of Education in Sudan

Growing up in Ad-Damazin, the capital of Blue Nile State in Sudan, Altabari Hassan’s life had been insulated from hardship as he nurtured a desire to become a world-class surgeon. In 2015, his family relocated to Khartoum, Sudan’s bustling capital, where Altabari immersed himself in the vibrant energy of urban life. Some years later, his dream took a significant step forward when he secured admission to the Sudan International University’s medical program. But just as Altabari was approaching a crucial juncture in his academic journey, Sudan, a nation already scarred by conflicts, plunged deeper into crisis on April 15th, 2023. 


The violence which erupted between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), added fuel to a fire that was already burning — from ongoing conflicts, and outbreaks of disease — to a fragile economy, and a looming climate catastrophe.

Even before the recent clashes, Sudan shouldered a heavy burden. It hosted over 1 million refugees — the second-highest number in Africa. These refugees fled conflicts in South Sudan, Ethiopia, Central African Republic, and Chad, seeking solace in a land already grappling with its challenges.

As of February 2024, nearly 8 million Sudanese have been internally displaced, and an estimated 7.6 million people have evacuated their homes in the capital city, Khartoum, seeking refuge within Sudan and in neighbouring countries.

A family flees conflicts 

The conflicts had affected Altabari’s family severely, from the parents losing their livelihood to Altabari and his siblings abandoning their education.

“The experience was devastating and we couldn’t believe we had to endure so much for a conflict we barely understood,” Altabari recounted.

Altabari’s father, Hassan, explained their harrowing escape from Khartoum due to a lack of basic necessities like medicine, food, and water, which made their area, controlled by the RSF, untenable. The situation was intensified with rampant crimes, including rape, looting, and theft.

“Displacement was our only option,” Hassan said. “There have been reports of horrific violence where women and men alike are being targeted for rape.”

Hassan’s words paint a grim picture of Sudan’s current state. The recent fighting has pushed the country to the brink of collapse. A staggering 25 million people, half the population, desperately need humanitarian aid. Food, water, medicine, and fuel are critically scarce. Hunger also stalks the land, with nearly 18 million facing acute food insecurity.

Education in Crisis

Sudanese universities haven’t seen consistent operations since December 2018 as a result of the protests that ousted former President Omar al-Bashir, which led to the initial shutdown of the institutions. Since then, a relentless cycle of crises has disrupted students’ ability to complete their studies. The COVID-19 pandemic and devastating 2020 floods, which triggered a national emergency, further exacerbated the situation.

The recent conflict inflicted countless casualties. Altabari remembers vividly how its eruption forced him to abandon his education at the Sudan International University and rush home to reunite with his family fleeing the violence in Khartoum for safety in Kassala State.

Now, Altabari’s family has adapted, building a new life in Kassala State, Eastern Sudan. He has even resumed his studies, enrolling in a branch of the Sudan International University there, with his family diligently supporting his education.

“I’m currently a third-year medical student. While I’m happy to be back in school, I’m still grappling with post-traumatic stress from the conflict,” Altabari shared.

Sudanese students may have the option of migrating within the country to continue their education. However, the situation takes a turn for the worse for international students from other African nations, including Nigeria.

“Foreign students have left Sudan to pursue their studies at universities elsewhere. It was heartbreaking to say goodbye to my colleagues from other African countries whom we had grown incredibly close with,” Altabari told Diaspora Africa.

Statistics from the Non-Sudanese Students Welfare Organisation, a Khartoum-based NGO, revealed that over 24,000 male and female students from over 91 countries were enrolled in Sudanese universities as of April 2023.

In the wake of the conflict, the organization has issued safety advisories, urging all students to “exercise caution and avoid roaming downtown, especially at night, when looting and theft are frequent.” They also advise students to carry “all necessary identification documents” at all times.

Chasing dreams through hardships

Like Altabari, Ibrahim Sani has conceived the dream of becoming a medical doctor since his high school days back in Jahun, a settlement in Nigeria’s Jigawa State. In June 2020, his ambition took a step closer when he stumbled upon an announcement, offering Jigawa State indigenes interested in studying medicine abroad a chance to apply for a scholarship. This piqued his interest, and the next morning, he submitted his credentials to the state’s ministry of education.

“After the closure of the submission we were scheduled to sit for the first screening examination,” Ibrahim said.

The competition was fierce. Nearly 2,800 students participated in the initial screening, with only 247, including Ibrahim, advancing to the final round. 

In July 2020, jubilation filled Ibrahim’s heart when he learned that he was among the final 60 students selected for the scholarship. He said he couldn’t sleep the whole night because of the excitement. “It was a similar feeling for my parents. They were happy too,” he expressed.

The Jigawa State Government, under former Governor Muhammad Badaru Abubakar, generously offered the successful candidates a fully-funded scholarship, including passport and visa assistance. The original plan was to enrol them at Shenyang Medical College in China. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the destination switched to Sudan International University in Khartoum, Sudan.

Ibrahim had enjoyed his days in Khartoum despite the language barrier, with most people speaking Arabic. Eventually, the 22-year-old adapted to the new environment and his studies progressed smoothly until February 2023, when, after completing two academic sessions at the university, the Jigawa State government provided Ibrahim and his fellow students with free return flights for a holiday in Nigeria.

“When we came back, fighting started in Sudan, and we couldn’t go back to school. Personally, it made me sad and worried about my education,” Ibrahim explained.

Following his assumption into the office of the Governor of Jigawa State in May 2023, Malam Umar Namadi Danmodi recognized their plight and pledged to find them alternative universities.

The initial proposal to transfer the students to Al-Misr University in Egypt fell through due to a requirement that expected them to restart from year one. Yet negotiations continued, leading them to a university in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. 

“The university in Turkey granted us admission while allowing us to resume our studies in the 3rd year,” Ibrahim told Diaspora Africa.

The journey to Northern Cyprus was hectic, but Ibrahim, who had always been an optimist, embraced the new experience. He has now settled into a more comfortable environment and is focused on achieving his dream of becoming a medical doctor. 

“My ultimate goal is to return to Jahun to improve access to healthcare in my community,” he stressed.

Dreams on hold

Unlike Ibrahim, who had a fortunate outcome, the situation went south for many Nigerian students. Sadiq Abdullahi, a final-year medical student at Khartoum’s International University of Africa, envisioned graduating from the institution, but the war-shattered his dream, forcing him and his fellow students to return to Nigeria.

University World News reported that these Nigerian students encounter obstacles in continuing their education due to missing transcripts and limited university vacancies in Nigeria. Now, they are confronting an uncertain future burdened by the disruption caused by both the conflict and the shortcomings of the Nigerian education system.

While Altabari, on the other hand, continued his education uninterrupted, a harsh reality confronts many Sudanese students. The war has shut down countless schools, now occupied by displaced people, and leaving millions with no education. Teachers like Fatima Mohamed remain unpaid and on strike. Even students who fled the violence, like Sarah al-Sharif and Rabab Nasreldeen, struggle to continue their studies elsewhere due to missing documents or limited internet access, according to a Reuters report.

The report also highlighted the efforts of aid groups like Education Cannot Wait, a UN global fund, offering temporary solutions while the future of Sudanese education remains uncertain.

Making a difference 

Jamal Mohammed, a conflict and migration expert with deep Sudanese experience, acknowledged the country’s current crisis as a multifaceted issue. He underscored that prioritizing education remains a critical approach to post-conflict recovery.

“Education provides not just hope for a brighter future, but also equips individuals with the tools necessary to rebuild their lives and communities, ultimately reducing the pressure to migrate,” Jamal explained to Diaspora Africa.

Jamal further argued that addressing the root causes of migration can be achieved through establishing emergency education programs that equip students with knowledge and skills directly relevant to Sudan’s specific challenges, such as climate change adaptation and conflict resolution.

“By empowering future generations to tackle these issues head-on, we can build a more stable and prosperous Sudan, where migration becomes an option, not a necessity,” Jamal stated.

Editor: Amaka Obioji 
Image:  Avel Chuklanov - Unsplash

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