People fleeing Sudan arrive at Wadi Karkar bus station in Aswan, southern Egypt, 30 April 2023. EFE-EPA/KHALED ELFIQI/FLE

Safe at last: the nightmare of a Sudanese family’s escape to Egypt

By Isaac J. Martin and Aya Ragheb

Giza, Egypt, May 5 (EFE).- With their hands up and shouting: we are civilians! This is how two Sudanese people waded through Khartoum while they prepared everything for their next step, fleeing to Egypt, although that did not prevent armed men from shooting at them.

Now, having found safety, Hazem Ibrahim and Fatima Mohamed seek a new life in Cairo, far from the weapons and bombs going off in their city.

In an alley parallel to a main road in the province of Giza, west of Cairo, Fatima, Hazem and nine other members of their family take refuge in an apartment after a five-day journey from Khartoum to the Egyptian capital.

The trip is a nightmare due to the hours and hours of waiting at a border crossing through which more than 50,000 Sudanese have already crossed since fighting between the country’s army and a powerful paramilitary group began on Apr. 15.

People fleeing Sudan arrive at Wadi Karkar bus station in Aswan, southern Egypt, 30 April 2023. EFE-EPA/KHALED ELFIQI/FLE

Fatima, 28, said leaving Khartoum was the worst.

“The prices of the buses changed every two hours and in the end we paid $500 each,” Fatima told EFE, saying she remembers the escape with her son in her arms.

“It was the last money we had left from our savings,” she said, speaking about conditions on the Sudanese side and the Egyptian border officials who made an exception and let them walk through the crossing with their elderly parents, something technically forbidden.

She and her family paid for a bus to take them from Khartoum to the Egyptian city of Aswan, the first stop for Sudanese people fleeing the conflict between the army and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group.

People fleeing Sudan arrive at Wadi Karkar bus station in Aswan, southern Egypt, 30 April 2023. EFE-EPA/KHALED ELFIQI/FLE

“It has been chaotic (…) The problem is that the buses we paid to take us to Aswan did not come. They told us that we might have to wait a week or two if we wanted to cross with the bus,” she said.

From Khartoum to Cairo it took five days, a “very hard” trip, said Fatima, adding that “although nothing happened, we have arrived safely and we have been saved from the war.”

Fatima and her nephew Hazem have not suffered the fatal fate of the at least 550 people who have died since hostilities began. It may not have been so.

On the same Apr. 15, Hazem, 24, was on a Saudia plane, the Saudi airline, heading to Riyadh, where he lives with his parents, without knowing that the airport would be the first scene of the conflict.

“We were on the plane and we heard the first explosions, but we thought we were safe by being inside the plane. But suddenly, a rocket struck and two people died on the spot from the impact,” he told EFE from his new home in Egypt.

These two civilians were the first deaths in the capital, medical sources said. Hazem said he remembers how he stayed on the plane, since he is a medicine graduate, together with another doctor and part of the crew to evacuate two injured and the rest of the passengers.

That day videos appeared on social media of people taking refuge in the Khartoum International Airport, something shocking as it was the main route of entry into the country, an access that continues to be suspended to this day due to the fighting.

Hazem was able to escape death, but had to face it a second time a few days later.

Together with Fatima they drove to the other side of the capital to collect her passport, which was in a travel agency. During that tour, they kept their hands raised out of the windows shouting that they were civilians, although it was to no avail as they were shot at.

“We saved ourselves by hiding crouched down,” said Fatima, who accused the paramilitaries of having shot them since she recognized them by their uniform.

“We saw several bodies lying on the streets, from their cars. We were trying to avoid the bodies on the way,” she said.

Fatima’s brother, Saleh Mohamed, 47, was in Saudi Arabia when the conflict broke out. He was able to fly to Cairo directly where he rented the apartment in which they now all stay.

“Now we are alive and well, but for now we do not know how to organize ourselves. For now, we want to rest and take a good look at our savings,” Saleh, who works as an official in a ministry in Khartoum and should have returned to his post, told EFE.

He said he has no information on how to register as a refugee. Christine Beshay, spokeswoman for the UN Refugee Agency in Egypt, told EFE that less than 1 percent of those who have fled have registered with her agency.

“The most important thing is that as a family we are all together, now everything is stable. We are now safe and we will see the next step,” Saleh said. EFE