Ethiopia, 9 October 2023 – In the wake of his father’s tragic passing last year, Tarig’s family turned to him for guidance and support. “Everyone is waiting for you to do the right thing and make the correct decision – that’s a big responsibility,” he explains.
As a new year unfolded, their lives seemed to find a semblance of normalcy until a quiet day of April this year, as Tarig and his family were getting ready to meet for their annual Eid celebrations in Khartoum, Sudan. Despite simmering tensions, the family remained hopeful that the situation would settle down soon.
“We had never encountered such a level of violence, so the idea that it could escalate to this extent had never crossed our minds,” Tarig says, reflecting on the events that would forever alter his life.
As he was getting ready to leave his duty station with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Niger and meet his family, Tarig’s plans took a dramatic turn with a phone call from his brother, Mohammed. The news was unsettling: their backyard in Khartoum had become a battleground, bullets embedding the area. Tarig’s advice to Mohammed was clear: “Find your sisters and get out of there immediately.”
Stuck amidst the fighting, Mohammed shut himself indoors with little food or resources, hoping the situation would soon improve. With no access to electricity, he had to run to the house across the street to charge his phone and keep in touch with family. But with no resolution in sight, he decided to get on a tuk-tuk and cross the fighting zone to pick up his children and flee.
Several weeks into the conflict, Tarig’s two sisters and their eight children embarked on a difficult journey of their own, hoping to take refuge in Egypt. One day waiting at the border stretched to three as they joined the queue of 55 buses with countless people seeking safety across the border. With the responsibility of caring for their children and minimal access to facilities, the situation soon became unbearable. Under the scorching April sun, they drank as little water as they could and prayed for a miracle.
For some, the agonizing wait dragged on for weeks, while others remain trapped in the ordeal to this day, unable to escape. Since the beginning of the crisis, over 4.2 million people have been internally displaced in Sudan and 1.1 million more have fled across borders into neighbouring countries, according to the latest figures by IOM's Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM).
Recognizing the gravity of the situation, Tarig found solace in the fact that his sisters and children managed to leave early on, escaping the worst of the atrocities. When the family finally reunited in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia a few weeks later, the ordeal that they had been through was evident. “When I saw them, I felt a mix of emotions: on one hand, I was happy and relieved to see them, but on the other, I was heartbroken that they had to leave that way,” Tarig recalls.
Soon after, they learned that their house in Sudan had been ransacked and their belongings stolen. “My father built that house with his own sweat and blood,” he explains. Later, a friend called him to let him know that there were dead bodies metres from his house. “Khartoum is a ghost city; those who are still there are locked in their houses praying.”
“When I finally felt that my family was safe and settled, the situation in Niger started heating up.”
While attending a workshop in Senegal, he received alarming news of political turmoil in Niger, which led to protests and unrest, and the closure of the country’s airspace and borders with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) countries. While waiting for Tarig to return to Niger, his wife and children had been preparing for their imminent move to Ethiopia where Tarig was taking up a new position.
Seeing the rapid deterioration of the situation, Tarig urged his wife to leave. “Even though we were both worried sick, she never let me see that for one second and tried to calm me down during our darkest times.”
Fortunately, his family was able to flee the country when the restrictions were briefly lifted. As soon as his family landed in Ethiopia, the authorities closed the airspace and borders in Niger once more, which remained closed until the beginning of September.
Despite the ongoing tragedies that were unfolding in his life, Tarig had to pull himself together and continue working as before, if not harder. “With thousands of migrants stuck in Niger, all going through the same troubles, I’ve had to work on strengthening the support and solutions we provide,” he explains.
Tarig has been working in ICT with IOM for nearly two decades across Sudan, Niger and more recently, Ethiopia. Throughout these years, he has come to value the unique bond that develops between IOM staff, which he thinks was fundamental for his family’s survival. He is convinced that they would still be stuck in Sudan or Niger had it not been for the crucial support both missions provided.
Tarig imagines a future where he will finally be able to return to Sudan and rebuild the country and the house his father built. “We’ve always said that Sudan knows how to make peace, but look at us now,” Tarig reflects. “It’s going to take a while before we all start feeling like ourselves again.”
After their emotional reunion, Tarig’s wife began opening up about the challenging experiences she went through in Niger and Sudan, much to his admiration. “My wife is a strong, wise woman and I’m so proud of how she handled the situation and protected the kids,” Tarig explains. “They don’t understand why they left; they just know that they had to leave in a rush.”
When he saw four-year-old Cila, who speaks French fluently and has a good grasp of local languages, she joyfully exclaimed, “Yalla, papa! Let’s go home!” A month old when she first came to Niger, Cila doesn’t know any other home beyond Niger’s borders.
Written by Monica Chiriac, Tarig’s friend.