Aboutengue, Chad – In June 2023, Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) stormed into Yahiya Adam’s home and shot his brother and father dead.

They sprayed him with bullets and tossed his body out on the road in el-Geneina, West Darfur’s capital.

Adam, 27, was semi-conscious and bleeding from the back of his neck, shoulder and arms. He lay on the ground as the blood draining from his body mixed with the hot sand.

His eyes fixed on the doorway of his home, where he saw RSF fighters take turns raping his three sisters.

He heard them cry for help, but could not do anything to save them.

“They were all raped … and I could see it happening with my own eyes. I really saw it happen. I saw it all,” Adam said, his voice trailing off.

“There were about 20 RSF fighters in my home,” he told Al Jazeera.

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Exodus

Hundreds of thousands of civilians from the Masalit farming tribe (often referred to as non-Arabs) saw their families murdered and their community expelled to eastern Chad about a year ago.

The exodus unfolded after West Darfur’s Governor Khamis Abkar accused the RSF and allied nomadic fighters (often referred to as Arabs) of committing genocide against the Masalit during a live broadcast on June 6, 2023.

Abakar, who headed the Sudanese Alliance, a Masalit armed group, was detained and assassinated right after the interview.

Hours later, footage circling on social media showed an RSF truck driving over his corpse, while women threw rocks at his battered body.

RSF fighters then reportedly began raiding and burning homes, terrifying Masalit families into fleeing across the porous border several kilometres away into Chad. Somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 people were killed in el-Geniena alone, according to a report by a UN panel of experts.

The RSF has denied perpetrating the violence, claiming that it had tried to protect the governor and that the high death toll was the result of a decades-old “tribal conflict” it blames the army for.

“Despite our efforts to protect the governor, the outlaws launched a large-scale raid … resulting in his abduction and tragic assassination, devoid of any humanity,” the RSF said on X, formerly Twitter.

But survivors told Al Jazeera that the RSF ambushed and killed their friends and loved ones as they tried to escape, while they limped and staggered over the border after being shot in the back, legs or arms.

Those who survived the violence still cope with the mental and physical scars from that terrifying day.

Reunion

Adam showed the bullet scars on his neck, shoulder, ribcage and chest.

After his sisters were raped, he vaguely recalls RSF fighters loading his body on the back of a pick-up truck and dumping him over the border in Chad.

“They left me there to die,” he said. “I had blood everywhere on my body.”

Adam somehow woke up in a nearby clinic run by Doctors Without Borders, known by its French initials, MSF.

He does not know who brought him there but was happy to discover that his mother and sisters were still alive.

Sudanese refugee, Yahiya Adam, shows the scar of a bullet wound sustained by the RSF.
Adam shows the scar of a bullet wound that hit him in the lower neck. [Nicolo Filippo Rosso/UNHCR]

They had fled to an internal displacement camp to seek safety, then headed for Chad after the roads were clear.

“Friends saw me in the hospital and they told my sisters and mother [when they arrived in Chad] where I was,” he said.

“I was so happy when I saw them. I thought I had lost them all.”

The rescue

When the governor of West Darfur was killed, Ahmad Ababakr Bakhit hid at home with his older sister.

RSF fighters stormed in and shot him in his right leg and stabbed him in the stomach with a stick.

His older sister acted quickly to save his life, wrapping clothes tightly around his wounds to stop the bleeding and then getting him to a doctor who cleaned his wounds and amputated his leg.

“The doctor didn’t have all the tools. He just had some [to do the amputation],” Bakhit, 27, told Al Jazeera.

“The doctor went above and beyond to save me.”

After the operation, Bakhit’s sister loaded him onto a carro (the Sudanese Arabic term for a donkey cart) and took him over the border to Chad.

Sudanese refugee Ahmad Ababkr Bahkit in Chad.
Ahmad Ababkr Bahkit is measured for a prosthetic leg in eastern Chad at Humanity and Inclusion [Nicol Filippo Rosso/UNHCR]

There, he was taken to a clinic where doctors cleaned his wounds and gave him medicine for the pain.

“My sister saved me,” he said matter-of-factly.

Bakhit’s sister is now working in a market to support him, his brother and his mother.

He wants to help her, but is waiting for a prosthetic leg that the Humanity and Inclusion organisation promised him.

He plans to go to work once he can walk again without assistance.

Starting a new life

At the Humanity and Inclusion centre, Mohamad Isaac is waiting patiently to be examined for a prosthetic leg.

Like countless Masalit men, he barely survived the mass killing in el-Geneina in June 2023.

The 37-year-old said RSF fighters invaded his home, killed his father and nephew and shot him in the leg.

Isaac was losing consciousness as he lay in a pool of blood and all he remembers is RSF fighters telling him, “The Masalit are finished.”

“They attacked all of us after they killed [the governor],” he told Al Jazeera. “They were searching everywhere for the Masalit.”

Sudanese refugee Mohamad Isaac poses for the camera at Humanity and Inclusion's center in eastern Chad.
Mohamad Isaac at Humanity and Inclusion’s centre in eastern Chad. He fell into a deep depression after his leg was amputated [Nicolo Filippo Russo/UNHCR]

Luckily, Isaac’s brothers found him alive after his attackers left.

They quickly bandaged his leg and drove him to Chad where doctors amputated his leg and treated his wounds to save his life.

In the following weeks, Isaac began coping with depression. One of his two wives left him because he could no longer support her or her children. His other wife, he said, was “patient with him” and chose to stay.

“I remember thinking, ‘How will I live?’” Isaac said.

Since losing his leg, he turned to his faith to overcome his trauma and depression.

Since coming to Chad, he has taught Sudanese children the Quran and encouraged them to count their blessings, even after losing their homes, friends and loved ones.

“I teach children in the camp and children from outside the camp,” he said.

“That’s how I restarted my life and found meaning again.”

This story was made possible thanks to a reporting trip that EU Humanitarian Aid facilitated and organised to eastern Chad.

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