The Photographer’s 11 day journey to escape war-torn Sudan

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Mohamed Zakaria, a Sudanese photojournalist, found himself on the brink of escape from his homeland last month, leaving behind his precious camera equipment in el-Fasher, North Darfur. As a reporter for the BBC covering Sudan’s civil war, Mohamed witnessed the escalating conflict between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), culminating in a devastating siege of el-Fasher.

Amidst relentless shelling, Mohamed’s own home was hit, causing fatalities and injuries, including shrapnel wounds that remain in his body and the loss of his brother’s eye. Despite the dangers, Mohamed chose to remain in el-Fasher to continue his work, supporting his family who sought refuge in Chad.

RSF tightening their grip, Mohamed decided to flee towards South Sudan, navigating through 22 checkpoints manned by both the army and RSF fighters. Concealing his identity as a journalist became critical for his safety, although he was once identified, leading to a tense interrogation where he narrowly avoided severe consequences by negotiating a hefty payment.

Mohamed embarked on a perilous journey with his cousin Muzamil, hiding his photographic evidence in creative ways to evade detection. From Zamzam refugee camp to Dar es Salaam and Khazan Jadid, they joined a convoy escorted by RSF soldiers, paying fees for safe passage. However, suspicions arose at checkpoints, especially in el-Daein, where Mohamed’s social media activity nearly jeopardized their escape.

Their journey was fraught with challenges, including vehicle breakdowns and delays in remote locations like Abu Matariq. Despite these setbacks, they pressed on towards el-Raqabat, the last town before the South Sudan border, passing through the desolate el-Deim forest.

Reflecting on his harrowing ordeal, Mohamed described moments of despair and fear, particularly during the interrogation in el-Daein, where his fate hung in the balance. His determination to reach safety in South Sudan was fueled by the constant threat of arrest or worse, a reality faced by many fleeing conflict in Sudan.

The journey was not just a physical passage but a testament to resilience in the face of adversity. As he finally approached the border with South Sudan, he carried with him the weight of his experiences, unsure of what lay ahead but grateful for his survival against daunting odds.

His story echoes the plight of countless others caught in Sudan’s protracted conflict, where civilians and journalists alike endure perilous conditions in search of refuge and safety.

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