A man leads donkeys pulling water barrels in Khartoum, Sudan, Sunday, May 28, 2023. The Sudanese army and a rival paramilitary force, battling for control of Sudan since mid-April, had agreed last week to the weeklong truce, brokered by the U.S. and the Saudis. However, the cease-fire, like others before it, did not stop the fighting in the capital of Khartoum and elsewhere in the country. AP photo by Marwan Ali.
BY SAMY MAGDY, Associated Press
ASWAN, Egypt — When fighting in Sudan erupted in mid-April, Abdel-Rahman Sayyed and his family tried to hold out hiding in their home in the capital, Khartoum, as the sounds of explosions, gunfights and the roar of warplanes echoed across the city of 6 million people.
They lived right by one of the fiercest front lines, near the military’s headquarters in central Khartoum, where the army and a rival paramilitary, the Rapid Support Forces, battled for control. Three days into the conflict, a shell hit their two-story home, reducing much of it to rubble.
Luckily, Sayyed, his wife and three children survived, and they immediately fled the war-torn city. The problem was, their passports were buried under the wreckage of their home.
Now they are among tens of thousands of people without travel documents trapped at the border with Egypt, unable to cross into Sudan’s northern neighbor.
“We narrowly escaped with our lives,” the 38-year-old Sayyed said in a recent phone interview from Wadi Halfa, the closest Sudanese city to the border. He said he was stunned that Egyptian authorities wouldn’t let his family in. “I thought we would be allowed in as refugees,” he said
Ibn Sina Mansour, a Sudanese-British national, waits for a call from his older brother, al-Samual Mansour, who is trapped in Sudan, at his hotel in Aswan, Egypt, on May 10, 2023. Ibn Sina traveled to Aswan to be close to his brother, who lost his travel documents and is unable to cross into Egypt. AP photo by Samy Magdy.
Two months in, clashes continue to rage between the two rival forces in Khartoum and around Sudan, with hundreds dead and no sign of stopping after talks on a resolution collapsed. People continue to flee their homes in droves: This week the total number of people displaced since fighting began April 15 rose to around 2.2 million, up from 1.9 million just a week earlier, according to U.N. figures. Of the total displaced, more than 500,000 have crossed into neighboring countries, while the rest took refuge in quieter parts of Sudan, according to the U.N.
More than 120,000 Sudanese without travel documents are trapped in Wadi Halfa and surrounding areas, according to a Sudanese migration official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to brief media. Among them are those who never had a passport or whose passport expired or was lost during the rush to escape.
Wadi Halfa, which normally has a population of few tens of thousands, is also flooded by huge crowds of Sudanese men, women and children who do have their passports but must apply for visas at the Egyptian Consulate in the town to cross the border. Getting a visa can take days or even longer, leaving families scrambling for accommodation and food, with many sleeping in the streets.
Ibn Sina Mansour, a Sudanese-British national, speaks to his older brother, al-Samual Mansour, who is trapped in Sudan, at his hotel in Aswan, Egypt, on May 10, 2023. Ibn Sina traveled to Aswan to be close to his brother, who lost his travel documents and is unable to cross into Egypt. AP photo by Samy Magdy.
Calls are growing for Egypt to waive entry requirements. The Sudanese American Physician Association, a U.S.-based NGO, called on the Egyptian government to allow those fleeing the war to apply for asylum at the borders.
Instead, the Egyptian government last week stiffened entry requirements. Previously, only Sudanese men aged 16-45 needed visas to enter Egypt. But on June 10, new rules require all Sudanese to get electronic visas. Ahmed Abu Zaid, a spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, said the measures are aimed at fighting visa forgery by groups on the Sudanese side of the borders.
Sayyed described the June 10 decision as a “stab on the back” to all those trapped at the border. He was one of 14 Sudanese who fled Khartoum without passports and spoke to The Associated Press. All said they had thought that Egypt would ease the entry requirement for the fleeing Sudanese.
“We're forced to leave our homes,” Sayyed said. “It's a war.”
The passports of others were trapped in foreign embassies because they were applying for visas before fighting erupted. Embassies in Khartoum have almost all been evacuated, in which case procedures often require those passports be destroyed so they don’t fall into wrong hands. The U.S. State Department said in a statement that it had destroyed passports left there “rather than leave them behind unsecured.”
“We recognize that the lack of travel documentation is a burden for those seeking to depart Sudan,” it said. “We have and will continue to pursue diplomatic efforts with partner countries to identify a solution.”
People line up in front of a bakery during a cease-fire in Khartoum, Sudan, Saturday, May 27, 2023. Saudi Arabia and the United States say the warring parties in Sudan are adhering better to a week-long cease-fire after days of fighting. AP photo by Marwan Ali.
Sayyed and his family arrived in Wadi Halfa after a two-day journey from Khartoum. He took refuge in a school along with over 50 other families, all depending on humanitarian assistance from charities and the local community to survive, he said.
Every day for the past five weeks, Sayyed visited the Sudanese immigration authority offices and Egyptian Consulate in Wadi Halfa, a ritual many others followed as well in hopes of getting travel documents or visas.
But Sayyed has little chance, unless Egypt opens the border. New Sudanese passports are usually issued from the main immigration office in Khartoum, which stopped functioning since the onset of the war. The branch in Wadi Halfa doesn’t have access to computer records, so it can only renew expired passports manually, not issue new ones or replace lost ones, the migration official said.
Al-Samaul Hussein Mansour, a Sudanese-British national, left his travel documents at his home amid his chaotic escape from the fighting in Khartoum, according to his younger brother, Ibn Sina Mansour.
Al-Samaul, a 63-year-old pediatrician-turned-politician, didn’t get to the British Embassy in Khartoum to be evacuated with other British citizens. He thought that the clashes would stop “within a couple of days,” Ibn Sina said.
Tigrayan refugee Abraha Kinfe Gebremariam, 40, stands in a doorway of his family's shelter early morning in Hamdayet, eastern Sudan, near the border with Ethiopia, on March 21, 2021. His village of Mai Kadra was the first known massacre of a conflict in which thousands of ethnic Tigrayans like his family have been killed. AP photo by Nariman El-Mofty.
He first went to the western Darfur region, where he stayed with a relative for about a week. But as fighting continued, he headed toward the Egyptian border. Unable to find a place to stay in Wadi Halfa, he went to the nearby town of Shandi.
It was too dangerous to return to Khartoum and retrieve his documents, with continued street fighting and stray bombs and bullets hitting houses, said Ibn Sina, who is also a British citizen.
“Returning to Khartoum means death for Samaul,” he said in a recent interview in Aswan, the closest Egyptian city to the border with Sudan. Ibn Sina, a retired aviation engineer, came to Aswan from London to be closer to his older brother.
Also among those trapped were three brothers from Khartoum’s neighboring city of Omdurman, who either lost their passports or never had one. The three — ages 26, 21 and 18 years old — were separated from their parents and five sisters, who were all able to enter Egypt in early May.
“This war displaced and separated many families like us,” their father, Salah al-Din al-Nour, said. “We have nothing to do with their struggle for power. They destroyed Sudan and the Sudanese people.”
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed from Washington.
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