Fleeing war

Hager Elhakeem, Tuesday 25 Apr 2023

Hager Elhakeem visits Argeen crossing on the Egyptian-Sudanese border


The sun glares down on Argeen crossing at the Egyptian-Sudanese border. On Monday morning, the place looked calm. But as the temperatures rose, so did the palpable sense of strain among weary arrivals who had been waiting for hours to complete their paperwork.

Between 10am and 3pm more than 20 buses had entered the crossing.  

A pregnant Sudanese woman who lives in Canada with her husband and two other children, said she had been visiting her home when the conflict broke out. Opting to cut her visit short, her only way out was via the Argeen crossing.

The Egyptian government has exempted women and children from visa fees. “But the processing,” said the woman, “was very slow.”

“The area inside the crossing was not well organised and there were large numbers of arrivals, mostly Egyptians, Sudanese, and Ethiopians.” She said it had taken two days to complete the paperwork for her visa and the other procedures required.

Asked about the situation in Sudan, she said that it was bad in Khartoum but other parts of the country seemed more stable.

Omar, a Sudanese bus driver, said that the Egyptian authorities had opened the crossing to let Sudanese citizens into Egypt on 22 April. Most of his passengers were Egyptians, Sudanese, and Ethiopians fleeing the situation in Khartoum, which he described as “very worrying”. His job was to drive people from Sudan to Wadi Karkar, return back to Sudan with the empty bus, and pick up more passengers.

Karkar is the first stop on the Egyptian side for buses coming from Sudan. The small village 20 km west of the Aswan High Dam is where passengers alight, exhausted and worried about the days that lie ahead.

Arrivals from Sudan have to decide where to go next. Would it be better to spend a night or two in a hotel in Aswan to recuperate, or head straight to Cairo? Many opt for the former. In Aswan, hotel occupancy has soared from 20 to 90 per cent.

Hotel manager Adel Ragab says his hotel filled up almost overnight. Most of the guests are Sudanese. And what does a room cost?

“The price is lower for Sudanese than for Egyptians because Egyptians want to show support for their brother Sudanese,” he says.

An Egyptian guest at one of the hotels who had arrived from Sudan told Al-Ahram Weekly that she had spent a day at the crossing. It was not well organised, she said, adding that she hopes the Egyptian authorities increase the number of staff. On a visit to Sudan with her family, she decided to leave immediately after the outbreak of violence in Khartoum.

“A lot of Sudanese families are fleeing for fear that things will get worse. There is a lot of gunfire, and the Rapid Support Forces [RSF] are breaking into people’s houses and looting them,” she said.

She believed many of the Sudanese arriving in Argeen have homes or relatives in Egypt, or else are in transit, en route to some other destination.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 27 April, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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