Leaving everything behind: Sudanese seek safety in Egypt amidst armed conflict

Hager Elhakeem, Thursday 4 May 2023

Egypt has opened its southern gates to Sudanese fleeing the horrors of war. A look at their hopes and fears

Welcoming the displaced
A number of political parties and public figures are working to distribute displaced Sudanese in different citie (photo: AFP)


The conflict between Sudan’s Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) which broke out on 15 April has already left hundreds dead, thousands injured and tens of thousands homeless.

Many Sudanese escaping the conflict have arrived in neighbouring states such as Egypt. Regardless their political or religious affiliations, Egyptians have opened their homes and arms to their Sudanese brothers.

Sudanese national Atef Abdel-Moeti arrived in Luxor this week via Qastal, an alternative to the Argeen crossing. The 54-year-old taxi driver said he was “relieved” after reaching the Upper Egyptian city of Luxor.

“Some of my neighbours died when their homes were shelled, and the houses are now rubble,” he said.

Abdel-Moeti’s journey to Luxor took three days, and he is now living with an Egyptian friend Khaled, who once lived in Sudan. He packed essential items and took a bus from the Sudanese city of Atbara to the safety of Egypt. He said the route the bus took was secured by the SAF.

Two days after settling in Luxor, Abdel-Moeti still looks exhausted. He was nonetheless appreciative that he did not have to pay to enter Egypt thanks to the Four Freedoms Agreement.

In 2004, Egypt and Sudan signed the agreement granting freedom of movement, residence, work, and property ownership for people in the two countries. Only men between the ages of 16 and 50 are required to pay for visas. Women, children, and the elderly are exempted. The agreement, however, has never been fully implemented on the ground.

Abdel-Moeti says he feels safe and “at home” in Egypt, though he misses his family and relatives who are still in Sudan. He is trying to arrange for his sister, husband, and children to travel to Egypt though he says he has yet to figure out how to do it.

Abdel-Moeti says he wants neither the SAF nor RSF to take over his country.

A man who worked at Khartoum Airport, who preferred not to give his name, said gunfire could be heard around the clock across Khartoum State, and since the outbreak of the conflict he had had no access to electricity or water.

The 54-year-old official said he had eventually convinced his 70-year-old mother to flee to Egypt. The family — mother, wife, and three children — enetered Egypt via the Argeen crossing, “leaving almost everything behind”.

The official says he is “comfortable” in Egypt, which he has visited multiple times. He is worried, however, about the future and does not know when he will next see his relatives who remain in Sudan.

Khaled Fahim, 50, has opened his house in Luxor to receive Sudanese friends and acquaintances.

Fahim has a small, two-floor house which is now home to 12 Sudanese.

“Women sleep on the lower floor, men on the upper,” he said.

The economic crisis Egypt is facing did not stop Fahim from taking in those fleeing Sudan.

“God is bountiful. We are all suffering, but food that was enough for 10 people is now shared by 20,” he said.

Fahim says many of his neighbours have followed suit and are supporting Sudanese fleeing the conflict. Many people in Luxor, Esna, and Aswan say they are ready to help.

“The Sudanese are our brothers. We almost speak the same language. Many Egyptian families live in Sudan, and vice versa,” said Khaled.

In Cairo, Abdine bus station is the arrival point for many Sudanese. Marwa Kamel, an Egyptian journalist and researcher in African affairs, has been coordinating with Sudanese students since 22 April to arrange accommodation for those seeking to cross into Egypt through the Argeen crossing.

Kamel has been offering logistical support in Aswan, including arranging accommodation at discounted prices.

Many Nubians and Egyptians have hosted Sudanese nationals for free, providing a respite until they can figure out their next destination. Kamel herself is hosting three Sudanese families at her house in Cairo. Friends and acquaintances, they travelled to Egypt via Argeen.

Kamel says that a number of political parties and public figures are working to distribute displaced Sudanese in different cities to prevent overcrowding, and that many individuals, including doctors and therapists, are offering their services free of charge. Others have offered employment, furniture, and other items that are needed.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 4 May, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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