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Sudanese fleeing to Egypt blame both sides for the conflict

‘Their disagreement is not over a national issue or something for our country's benefit.’

A four panel image that shows the faces of two people and two others whose backs are facing the camera. Azza Guergues/TNH
Four Sudanese recount their journeys from Khartoum and their harsh treatment at the Egyptian border.

Sudanese who have fled to Egypt in recent days described harrowing scenes of violence, arduous escapes from Khartoum, and the importance of rejecting both sides of the conflict, in interviews at the border with The New Humanitarian.


Thousands have arrived in Egypt over the past two weeks, part of an exodus that could reach nearly a million people and affect seven surrounding states, according to the UN.


The New Humanitarian visited the border last weekend to speak to Sudanese about the conflict, and about obstacles they are facing crossing the border, where there have been reports of severe overcrowding, long delays, and a lack of aid.


“There was no healthcare at the crossing,” said 32-year-old Romisa Ali. “There were elderly people there, chronically ill people there, children there… and a woman who gave birth.”


Asked who they blamed for the conflict – which began on 15 April – the new arrivals in Egypt said politicians and military leaders should never have created the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which has up to 100,000 members.


The RSF was formed in 2013 and descends from the brutal Janjaweed militias used by the state to put down a rebellion in Darfur 20 years ago. It is one of a line of paramilitary groups that have crushed insurgencies in marginalised regions on behalf of the state.


Others pointed out that most Sudanese don’t support either of the two generals leading the rival sides. “Their disagreement is not over a national issue or something for our country's benefit,” said Mona Abdellatif Osman, a 45-year-old accountant. 


The fighting comes 18 months after the army and the RSF jointly toppled a transitional government supposed to steer Sudan to elections. That administration was put in place after revolutionary protests led to the fall in 2019 of dictator Omar al-Bashir.


Though the military alliance unravelled last month, tensions between the two forces have been building for years as the RSF morphed into a nationwide force – one that threatened the relevance of the military and its economic power. 


The following interviews were edited for length and clarity. For more on the conditions facing civilians escaping Sudan, see our reporting from different borders. For more on the situation in Khartoum, check out these personal, first person accounts.


Mona Abdellatif Osman, 45, accountant: ‘The war won't end in a month’

A portrait of a woman sitting at the edge of a bed. Her hands are clasped over her knees.
Azza Guergues/TNH

The New Humanitarian: Who do you blame for this conflict breaking out?

Osman: I blame both sides [the RSF and the army], because they disagree over who commands. Their disagreement is not over a national issue or something for our country's benefit. The two disagree over their personal interests. This is a power struggle between opposing sides over people's sovereignty. Sudan's people do not deserve that. Sudanese citizens are good people, peaceful people, and people who just want to live a normal life. We citizens don't have arms, we are not used to fighting.


The New Humanitarian: What did you experience in Sudan, and how difficult was the journey to Egypt?

Osman: [When] the intense gunfire began, I couldn't believe it. My 15-year-old daughter, who was sleeping, woke up terrified and began screaming and crying. ‘This is a war’, I told her, and I was terrified. I couldn't believe Sudan was becoming a war zone until I switched on Al-Jazeera and saw the flames and fires. 


We were hit by bullets of all kinds. On Eid, I removed many bullets from my house. And when my husband walked from one area [of Khartoum] to ours on foot, he saw corpses in the streets.


When we decided to leave, Egypt was the only way out. The road to Aswan [an Egyptian town near the Sudanese border] was harrowing. It was inhuman in all senses. The road took us five days. We lacked water, toilets, food and medicine. Two sick and elderly women who had been waiting at the crossing for four days died. The situation is very dire.


On the Sudanese side of the border, food is available but extremely expensive. There was heinous greed [from vendors] and there were no facilities to use. You can only have a few sips of water. A bottle of water costs 1,000 Sudanese pounds [$1.67]. On the same bus, there were families whose money had run out, and they had children with disabilities.


The New Humanitarian: What are your plans for the coming weeks and months?

Osman: I plan to visit my brothers in Cairo for a week so that I can find out how to get my money from my bank. I will then book my tickets to visit my other brother who lives in Oman and stay there, because Sudan will suffer destruction in the coming days – the war won't end in a month.


As of now, there are no clear points at which both parties are interested in meeting. Taking revenge is what they will do. There will be no resolution soon, and the crisis will continue. It leaves me speechless when I think about Sudan. We are in a very difficult situation right now, and I wish I could talk about Sudan in a different way.


Romisa Ali, 32: ‘We want to rebuild Sudan. It is for this reason that we participated in the revolution.’

We see the back of a woman. She wears a colorful blue and orange cardigan and has a black backpack.
Azza Guergues/TNH

The New Humanitarian: Who do you blame for this conflict breaking out?

Ali: All parties are involved, including the civilian government [deposed in the October 2021 coup], the RSF, and the army. All of them must share the blame, but the first to blame is the army. The army backed the RSF militia. It was clear when the Sudanese revolution began in 2019 that the RSF militia must be disbanded and the army must return to its military barracks and camps. The RSF should not be affiliated with any regular forces, as it is a militia. This was obvious to the Sudanese people, but the army refused to acknowledge it and allowed the RSF to expand. Why did you partner with a militia accused of genocide in Darfur? Why were you considering integrating it with the regular army? 


The New Humanitarian: What did you experience in Sudan?

Ali: [On 15 April], I woke up to gunfire. I had a flight that day. I opened Facebook, and people were talking about severe clashes between the RSF and the Sudanese army. After an hour, airport shootings increased sharply. There was a chaotic scene with shells flying, and nobody knew what was happening.


The situation in Sudan isn't just clashes; it will become even more complicated as the security situation remains unstable. The interior ministry and the police are completely absent. It is very normal to be looted or killed, if you did not get hit by the RSF or the army.


All of my family members live outside of Sudan. I am the only person in the country due to my work. My parents were very worried about me. I'd tell them it's going to be over soon. I lived near the airport, so the shootings were severe. As I live on the third floor, many stray bullets hit my flat. Ultimately, I decided to leave and stay with relatives in a safer neighbourhood. I did not want to leave until the last minute, when my extended family – uncles and aunts – decided to travel to another state. 


The New Humanitarian: How difficult was the journey to Egypt?

On 26 April, as soon as I stepped foot on the Argeen border [between Sudan and Egypt], I was terrified. My fear increased as I encountered severe crowding. Many people were sleeping on the ground. Food and water were available, but the amount was small compared to the number of people. There was no healthcare at the crossing. There were elderly people there, chronically ill people there, children there, pregnant women there, and a woman who gave birth there. Three elderly people have died. One of them was a woman who hadn't taken her blood pressure medication for three days. I experienced a blackout. What should I do? I could not think of my next steps. It was horrible to see children and the elderly sleeping on the floor. The bathrooms were all very dirty. I was in a state of horrifying anxiety and fear. I would never wish this experience on anyone else. I finally decided to move from Argeen, and I went to the Qastal-Ashkit border crossing. Despite spending a night there, it was better than the other crossing.


The New Humanitarian: What are your plans for the coming weeks and months?

Romisa: I am focusing on returning to Sudan when the security situation calms down; because, at the end of the day, we want to rebuild Sudan. It is for this reason that we participated in the revolution – we wanted a change. We don't want to return to square one with an army/RSF-ruled government that has nothing to do with our goals.


Hany Menawar, 45, TV director: ‘Many people wanted to leave Sudan’

We see the back of a man. He is indoors but facing the street.
Azza Guergues/TNH

The New Humanitarian: Who do you blame for this conflict breaking out?

Menawar: As much as I blame both sides, I blame the RSF more, because they started this war. They had a plan for everything that is happening. Khartoum is now a ghost town as most of the population left because of the war they started.


The New Humanitarian: What did you experience in Sudan?

Menawar: In the area where we lived, there was a lot of gunfire, and every day it increased. As soon as the helicopters are heard, the anti-aircraft units [of the RSF] respond, particularly in Omdurman and Bahri, where the RSF are numerous. And the army attacked them with airstrikes. Citizens were terrified by air bombardment and anti-aircraft sounds. The shooting happened randomly, and people were scared, so they stayed at home. There was no food or water. All stores were closed.


Our family made the decision to leave Khartoum. Families would gather and take a bus to leave [but] the price of tickets increased every hour. The ticket was 350,000 Sudanese pounds ($584), compared to 18,000 Sudanese pounds before the war, as many people wanted to leave Sudan.


Upon reaching the border, we found an excessive number of buses, and the movement was stopped. A lot of problems were encountered at the beginning: no water, nothing at the border. After the press started covering this issue, food and water were provided.


The New Humanitarian: What are your plans for the coming weeks and months?

Menawar: For now, I will go to Cairo. It is a well-known city to the Sudanese people. In the meantime, I'll look for a place to live, but I'm not sure if I'll find a job. Insecurity is a major problem in Sudan. We called our relatives and found out the gangs broke into their houses, broke [the doors] down, and stole. We hope the war stops. We left behind the fear after we left the city, but we replaced it with worry and sadness about our relatives who are still there.

Abdalla Elderdery, 23, psychology student: ‘I am lucky to have escaped’

A portrait of a young man. He is sitting at the edge of a cot and looking directly at the camera. He is wearing a beige back pack.
Azza Guergues/TNH

The New Humanitarian: Who do you blame for the conflict breaking out?

Elderdery: Both sides are responsible for the war, and they need to reach an agreement to end it. War harms everyone.


The New Humanitarian: What are your plans for the coming weeks and months?

Elderdery: Despite the overcrowding and the growing number [at the border], the trip [to Egypt] was facilitated. I had a tourist visa from before the war as I was planning to visit my sister, who studies at Alexandria University [in the north of Egypt]. I'll stop by and check on my sister in Alexandria and then see what will happen, if we can return to Sudan again. My friends are still there; some went to other states, but most of them are still there. Although I am lucky to have escaped at such a difficult time, I am upset that I left behind my family and friends.


Edited by Philip Kleinfeld.

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