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When violent clashes broke out between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), many citizens were killed, homes and shops were looted and criminals who escaped prisons added another layer of danger as violence swept through the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

Innocent civilians had to flee from Khartoum and its three cities, either to the states or to neighboring countries, on a journey to search for a safe haven. The journey was long and exhausting with extensive hours towards the unknown, looking for a glimmer of hope to escape the scourge of war.

I left with my family from Omdurman, after we endured the intensity of the clashes with a barrage of heavy weapons for more than three weeks. As we left on the mystery journey to seek refuge in Egypt, we were not certain of what awaited us on the long route since my passport had expired and my brother needed a travel visa from the Egyptian consulate.

We were informed that processing the travel documents was done in Halfa, a town three hours away from the Arqin crossing, on the Sudan – Egypt border. We arrived at Halfa at night, extremely exhausted from the long journey and we did not have a place to spend the night as the hotels were full of travelers and the prices exorbitant. My brother and I had to rent beds and sleep in the streets with crowds of people. Someone on Facebook suggested I should go to the emergency shelter center. 

People gather in the Sudanese town of Wadi Halfa bordering Egypt on May 4, 2023. Source: AFP

The city residents had opened their homes, schools, and hospitals to the stranded travelers. I was warmly received at a very crowded shelter, where volunteers were serving people. Taking a shower was another uphill task because of the long queues of people in front of the bathrooms.

My five days stay at the center was heartbreaking. I witnessed women looking for people to assist them in washing their deceased relatives who passed away due to the difficult journey and dire living conditions outside the emergency shelter.

This emergency shelter used to be a quarantine center for COVID-19 patients during the pandemic, but has now been converted into an emergency shelter to accommodate travelers who are stuck at the Ashkit crossing as they wait for their visas from the Egyptian consulate. Men stand in long lines following up on travel documents while their families wait. With the fluctuation of the network and internet in Halfa, people were forced to climb high hills to find network signals to call and check on their families and friends.

A team of male and female volunteers cooperated with international and local organizations, like the Sudanese Red Crescent Society, to offer travelers much needed support. As we were waiting, I met Mr. Hosni Muhammad, the Director of the emergency shelter center and Critical Medical Cases, and inquired from him how the idea of the Halfa emergency shelter came up.

“The shelter has been established to offer medical support to the fleeing masses that have emergency conditions. It is equipped with beds and air conditioning to at least offer some comfort. We started operating from the day the war broke out and have been receiving the elderly, children, women, people with special needs, and other medical cases. We are challenged by the inadequacy to accommodate a large number of stranded travelers. We lack financial support but will try our best to accommodate all cases due to the difficult circumstances that everyone is going through,” Hosni Muhammad revealed.

A thousand stories to be told

Inside the overcrowded shelter, I found travelers of all age groups, in addition to people with special needs and serious medical conditions and modest capabilities. I slept on a bed made of iron on which I put a piece of cloth so it does not leave marks on my body. I had trouble sleeping due to the pain in my entire body from the journey and general exhaustion, but

I could not even find basic painkillers in the nearby pharmacies.

It was only later when I was overcome by fatigue and exhaustion that I fell asleep only to wake up terrified to the sound of one of the children screaming, “the bomb… my father… oh.” He calmed down after a while and I learned that he was an autistic child whose father died as a result of the bombing of his home in Khartoum. Everyone in the center felt sad at that moment, and some began to share stories of how they got to Halfa.

My attention was pulled by a woman whose children were loudly crying as she gently calmed them down. As we chatted, I came to learn that she is called Sayyida Jamal originally from Shambat. She explained the suffering she experienced as she tried to flee to Halfa.

"I am married and I have three children. Electricity and water were cut off from Shambat during Ramadan as a result of the armed clashes between SAF and RSF. The building in front of us was bombed and shrapnel flew in all directions reaching us. My children were terrified. We moved to my family house in Omdurman, next to the roundabout near Al Halfaya Bridge. There were also clashes with heavy weapons, as well as looting and killing. After long discussions, we decided to flee to Egypt. My husband is an employee with a simple salary and hasn't received it because of the country’s situation. I sold my gold jewelry and we used our savings to enable us to travel. Now, I have this feeling that I am homeless. But we left fearing for my children and the lack of medicine and food; as we had reached a point we didn't even find bread for the kids.”

As for her sister Marwa Jamal who lives in Al-Thawra, Omdurman, where the family gathered before deciding to travel together, she noted the RSF were stationed near their house and this made life very difficult. She added, “We experienced a scarcity of foodstuffs and bread, and I have two children for whom I could not even find milk. I decided to flee to Egypt with my sister and left my house. At the time, I had nothing in mind but to save my children."

Ruthless crisis merchants

Millions of civilians had to flee Khartoum and other conflict states, and some went to states within the country or to neighboring countries with visible signs of malnutrition, food insecurity, and no access to the necessary medical care, social and psychological support.

What is significantly noticed is the greed of crisis merchants who exploit the afflicted as they escape from the war by defrauding them and escalating prices to more than 300%. Alaa El-Din Mohamed El-Tayeb, one of those stranded at the crossing, described his journey from Khartoum to Halfa.

"I am from Al-Raqi neighborhood, the first area where the clashes took place. We were shocked when we saw many wounded soldiers on our streets, in addition to the stationing of SAF and RSF near us. After five days of clashes, I decided to leave with my family, especially since my nine-month-old daughter was bleeding from her nose due to the loud sounds of weapons. We rented a bus worth 11 million SDG for 49 people. The bus driver refused to move until the total amount was paid, and we collected the amount in Sudanese currency and dollars. On our way, we saw members of the RSF soldiers killing two people, tuk-tuk drivers, to take their fuel in Bahri. We were stopped by RSF on our way, but they were nice to families. When we arrived in Marawi, we came across one of the escaped prisoners, who was accused of murder; he was freed when prisons released all the prisoners" he recalled.

El-Tayeb expounds that when they arrived, the bus stopped at a distance of three meters from the Arqin crossing, in an area with complete lack of services, no water or restrooms. They rented another bus worth two million SDG to take them only 30 kilometers to enter into Egyptian land. The bus only transported women and children and the men had to hire a boat to take them to Halfa.

El-Tayeb continues, “My feelings were mixed with memories of the armed clashes in Khartoum and thinking about my children. In Halfa, the line for the required profile pictures took 14 hours of waiting to finally get the photos. I submitted our papers to the Egyptian consulate through the security committee, anticipating a long wait. The passport committee had rampant corruption and they defrauded a Sudanese man who holds a European passport, and made him pay a lot of money. My opinion is that the Egyptian Consulate deals inhumanely with Sudanese travelers. Passport committees were formed to deal with the consulate, and when corruption and administrative abuses spread, the first to crack down was the Sudanese government.”

After submitting his passport through the committee, after two weeks the passport was returned due to the absence of an ID statement, leaving him stranded in an endless process.

People with special needs and emergency medical cases are the most affected groups

The hardship of traveling is exhausting for the average person, let alone the elderly, people with special needs, or those suffering from chronic diseases. They lost all they owned and do not even have enough money on their journey toward the unknown, and it is unfortunate that some are exposed to violations and exploitation.

There are families who have taken the street as their shelter, sleeping on the ground and covering themselves with the sky. Mohamed Ahmed, a volunteer at Halfa Emergency Shelter with special needs from Khartoum, described his suffering when he didn't obtain an entry visa to Egypt after more than a month. Ahmed had this to say; “I used to live in Al-Daim in Khartoum; I came with my family to escape the armed clashes. We evacuated our homes following a request and repeated calls from the Imam of the neighborhood mosque to vacate houses. After we left, the RFS took over our house. Our journey was very long, during which we stopped at Shendi, passing through Atbara, and from there to Halfa. My name was registered with the special cases at the consulate. Nevertheless, the visa has not been issued yet. I sit in front of the consulate from morning until afternoon, hoping to take my passport back with no breakfast or lunch, in addition to the high temperature”.

Near Crossings, but farther than they seem

The Ashkit crossing on the Sudanese side is separated by only a few meters from the Qustal crossing on the Egyptian side. Only a wall fence with an iron door in the middle and a foyer are the entrance or exit gate on both sides of the crossing. However, due to the overcrowding of travelers and the long procedures of inspection and identity verification, the journey from the Sudanese side to the Egyptian side, if you are lucky, takes least 48 hours and was worse when the wave of travelers was the highest in April, May and June. To some, as the number of transit days reached more than a week, their mind can hardly contain the stress and anguish.

On the Sudanese side, there are no services like restaurants or hotels, but there are some female tea makers, baggage handlers, and street vendors selling water and soft drinks at twice the normal price. There is one restroom at a cost of 200 SDG per person, which is exorbitant. There are also mosque restrooms, but they are filthy with no water. Despite the high temperatures, the fleeing masses had to take the hard decision of not eating or drinking large quantities of water so they would keep their bladders in check.

Travelers after luggage inspection on the Sudanese side of Ashkit crossing. Source:

Due to the burns I sustained while still at the Halfa emergency shelter center, and not being able to get adequate medication, I was still in pain. When I found an ointment to treat my wound, they wanted to sell it for 9,000 SDG, which is a lot. I suffered a lot on the Sudanese side of the Ashkit crossing. 

Eslam Abu Al-Qasim's burned hand

A sigh of relief notwithstanding the pain and sorrow

All that changed the moment we arrived at the Qastal crossing on the Egyptian side where World Food Programme staff welcomed us with a meal, juices, and water. The burn on my arm was treated at the Egyptian Red Crescent Hospital, and it was only then that I felt a sigh of relief and hope of recovering.

The Egyptian Red Crescent Clinic on the Egyptian side, "Qustal Crossing"

The journey continued until we reached the "Karkar station", which is the last stop for the Sudanese buses, from which we boarded a sea ferry for less than a quarter of an hour. The view on the Nile banks was beautiful and picturesque in the early morning. We had to stay overnight on the road before crossing due to working hours, which start at 6:00 am and end at 6:00 pm and the ferry doesn't operate at night. It was very cold there. I don't know why there are no hotels and restaurants in that area to provide services for travelers.

Travelers sleeping on the ground until morning waiting for the ferry

The neighboring country now is taking measures to limit the entry of Sudanese across its borders despite the overwhelming number of civilians yearning to cross for safety. It is reported that over 200,000 Sudanese have crossed from Sudan to Egypt since the outbreak of armed clashes in Sudan and the numbers are expected to increase as the situation becomes more dire in more than one state.

The Egyptian ferry to reach the Karkar station

At least 6 million people have been displaced by the war in Sudan and nearly a million have managed to flee to neighboring countries. In the midst of the continued armed clashes, looting, and theft that affected the operations and stores of international organizations, markets, and homes, efforts are underway to provide basic needs like healthcare and food to the affected population.

This is just the tip of the iceberg on the challenges reflecting the poor situation and conditions surrounding stranded travelers who are looking for safety, a decent life, and healthcare. There are countless stories and tragedies of those who are looking for a safe haven in our good neighbor Egypt. It is not surprising that Sudanese flocked to Egypt first and then other destinations in less numbers, many Sudanese have a long history of tourism, trade, health care and so much more with our Northern neighbor, aside from the familiarity of Egyptian people, the language and landscape. Despite the many challenges people face till today to reach Egypt, it is critical that the country regulates but not impede the entry of Sudanese fleeing the devastating war through border crossings.

Islam Abu Algassim

Islam is a Sudanese blogger, a social networking site activist and a human rights activist. She holds a Bachelor of Administrative Sciences, and was awarded the Best Academic Article from the Institute of Tomorrow for an academic article on the use of huge data in improving transport in Sudan.