Deputy head of mission, Francesca Arcidiacono, returns to Sudan

22 Mar 2024

Francesca Arcidiacono has returned to Sudan as deputy head of mission. In 2023, she worked as the head of mission in Sudan and was a firsthand witness to the beginning of the current war. Today, she's reflecting on her decision to return to Sudan and what this means to her personally.

deputy head of mission

Sudan holds a unique place in my heart. I spent several months there, from October 2022 till end of July 2023, during a period of significant events. What began as support for refugees and underserved local communities in specific project locations suddenly escalated into navigating a devastating conflict. 

The day the war broke out is recorded in my memory. It was a Saturday morning, and my phone was buzzing with messages and alerts. At that time, I was away from Khartoum, visiting our project for Ethiopian refugees and host communities, in Umrakuba camp, Gedaref State. Realising the gravity of the situation, we had to cancel the activities we had scheduled for that visit.

During the first days, everything was about organising the evacuations and ensuring the security of our teams and patients, in Khartoum, Omdurman and Geneina. 

The thought of leaving Sudan, despite being near the border, never crossed my mind. In a couple of days, Khartoum was turned from a stable capital into a desolated war zone. And a new wave of violence had erupted in several areas of the country and across Darfur. 

What I remember the most from the following period is not the destruction I saw, but the resilience and kindness of the people, despite the violence, displacements, and extreme conditions they had to endure. My Sudanese colleagues were always checking on me and making me feel at home, working around the clock to launch our new emergency interventions in Khartoum state, setting up our new bases in Wad Madani and Port Sudan, and keeping the activities running in Al-Gedaref state. 

I am returning to Sudan as deputy head of mission. After almost 11 months of war, we are seeing a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented size: thousands have died, millions have been displaced and the healthcare system and other essential services have been pushed to the brink of collapse. The lean season is expected to start in a few weeks: forecasts for this year are anything but positive. Additionally, our response keeps being hindered by considerable bureaucratic hurdles and we still have difficulties in securing access to some of the areas and communities that are most affected by the conflict. All that, at the onset of Ramadan, the month of fasting for the Muslim community. 

Despite the challenges and risks we may face in the following months, my commitment to support MSF projects in Sudan remains unwavering. Today, Sudan is one of the countries where our activities are needed the most.

Since joining MSF in 2015, Francesca has worked in several countries including Yemen, DRC, Cameroun, Iraq, Nigeria, Haiti, and Sudan. Her education in economics and political science was not merely academic; it was her steppingstone to making a tangible difference in the lives of those caught in crisis—the essence of humanitarian work.