Hundreds of refugee families face challenges of security as they journey to Egypt. From the scorching summer heat to profiteers benefiting from the war and bureaucratic foot-dragging, Sudanese fleeing battles at home have encountered numerous obstacles on their long road to safety in Egypt. Amidst the challenges, they have also found help from strangers.
Among the hundreds of refugee families waiting at the border, some did not possess passports. Others refused to proceed until their husband, brother, or son was granted a visa—a requirement from which women and children were exempt.
One woman recounted her experience, stating that she had been “sleeping sometimes on the ground, sometimes on a bus” for several days while waiting for her cousin’s visa to be issued by the Egyptian consulate in the border city of Wadi Halfa. Eventually, she crossed the border with a few of her aunts, but her cousin was still waiting, even a month after they had fled Khartoum.
In Wadi Halfa, where they became stuck, a Sudanese man who endured a two-week wait mentioned that “everything is overpriced because of war profiteers.” Some refugees opt to try their luck at another Egyptian consulate, located in the Red Sea coastal city of Port Sudan, which is more than 650 kilometres (400 miles) away from Wadi Halfa. However, relief is not guaranteed there either. Youssef al-Bashir stated that he had been waiting “for five days” along with hundreds of others to submit his application.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), since the fighting began on 15th April between the forces of two rival generals, over 132,000 refugees have arrived in Egypt. Additionally, more than a million others have been internally displaced in Sudan and in neighbouring countries.
Those who manage to cross the border to Egypt receive care for the sick and basic supplies such as water and biscuits from the Egyptian Red Cross. However, unlike other neighbouring countries accommodating Sudanese refugees, humanitarian operations in Egypt are limited. Cairo refuses to establish refugee camps and instead grants the new arrivals the right to work and move freely. President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi has consistently emphasized that his country is hosting “guests,” not war refugees.
Sudanese individuals crossing into Egypt’s south must purchase a bus ticket to take them to the nearest major city, Aswan, which is approximately 300 kilometres north of the border. In Aswan, volunteers greet them and provide a hot meal—the first for many since embarking on the perilous desert journey. Mansour Jomaa, one of around 60 volunteers, shared that they serve three meals a day, including chicken, pasta, and beans for lunch. They also deliver meals to several houses where multiple families are often crowded together.
Prior to the war, over four million Sudanese were living in Egypt, according to the United Nations. The shared Arabic language, cultural ties, and historical connection dating back to the Pharaonic era make Egypt an “obvious” destination, as expressed by Ahmed, one of the refugees. He referred to Egypt as their “second country.”
Carlos Cruz, head of the IOM mission in Egypt, stated that the number of people waiting to cross into Egypt is increasing. The UN agency requires $19.9 million to provide water, food, hygiene kits, and medicines—specifically for chronic illnesses such as diabetes—to these individuals. Cruz also added that in the long term, there will be other needs, including education and livelihoods.
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