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Sudan turmoil: Citizens flee in their thousands to Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia

As situation on Egypt border worsens, evacuees head to Port Sudan for Saudi Arabia, and Gedarif for Ethiopia
Members of the Saudi Navy Forces assist evacuees arriving at King Faisal navy base in Jeddah on 26 April 2023 (AFP)
Members of the Saudi Arabian navy assist evacuees arriving at King Faisal naval base in Jeddah on 26 April 2023 (AFP)

Sudanese civilians are desperately seeking sanctuary abroad as fighting continues between warring military factions, with many attempting to reach neighbouring Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia. 

More than 400 people have died since fighting broke out between Sudan's army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), sparked by plans to integrate the RSF into the armed forces.

In recent days, tens of thousands have made their way to neighbouring Chad, South Sudan, and Egypt

There have been reports of a tenfold increase in the price of bus tickets from the Sudanese capital to Argeen, on the border with Egypt. On Wednesday, some tickets were being sold for as much as $400.

There are long queues and little food at border control, with people waiting for days to be processed by immigration officials near the city of Wadi Halfa.

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A Khartoum resident told MEE from the Egypt border that a "huge humanitarian crisis" was taking place there, with "up to 400 buses queued at the border with 50 passengers on each bus". The Sudanese citizen said that Egyptian authorities were making it very difficult to allow them entry into Egypt. 

"Many children, women and old people are stuck here with no water, food or access to healthcare," he said. "There are no shops or restaurants or bathrooms. An elderly gentleman even passed away from this whole tragedy."

Hearing news like this passed to them from friends and relatives, some Sudanese nationals have now made their way to Saudi Arabia, via Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast.

Two Khartoum residents told Middle East Eye that the journey to the coast had taken them almost 24 hours by road - and the onward journey from there to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia was 292 km across the sea. 

sudan map with saudi egypt and ethiopia borders

Several people took to social media to praise Saudi Arabia's efforts. 

“We made [it] to Jeddah safely after a 24-hour journey by sea,” said academic Nisrin Elamin on Wednesday. “The Saudis literally rolled out the red carpet upon arrival, handing us sweets, flowers, and Saudi flags upon arrival and putting everyone up in hotels. 

Elamin explained how the Saudi consulate in Port Sudan gave out visas on a case-by-case basis, with many people waiting hours to be processed.

She recommended that anyone attempting the same journey should bring food, due to the lengthy processing and lack of available food options. 

A British-Sudanese social media user thanked the people of Jeddah for their “kindness and care” after her aunt and cousins arrived via Port Sudan. 

Videos were widely shared of evacuees embracing and thanking Saudi military officers after disembarking in Jeddah, and being handed roses and Saudi flags. 

Port Sudan to Saudi Arabia
People fleeing fighting across Sudan gather on 26 April 2023 in Port Sudan (AFP)

However, on Thursday there were reports, unconfirmed by MEE, that ships from Saudi Arabia were prioritising foreign nationals and “sending back” Sudanese nationals. 

MEE has contacted the Saudi foreign ministry for comment. 

The Saudi foreign ministry said on Thursday that 2,544 evacuees had landed in the country from Sudan, of whom 119 were Saudi citizens, with the rest coming from 74 other nations. 

Curiously, a video shared by Saudi state broadcaster Al-Ekhbariya appeared to show stranded Sudanese Umrah pilgrims in Saudi Arabia heading back to Sudan. It was not made clear why they were returning, given that many Sudanese were attempting to go in the opposite direction.

'Tough' trip to Ethiopia

Meanwhile, in the southeast of the country, thousands of Sudanese civilians are seeking to reach Ethiopia via the city of Gedarif

According to multiple Sudanese people who have attempted the journey, only those with a valid visa were allowed into Ethiopia.

“The Border is CLOSED. You will need a visa to enter. You can get a visa from Ethiopian consulate in Gedarif. The queues are Long! Over 2k waiting [for] visas,” said one social media user. 

That user noted that the journey was “tough”, with “insecurity” on both sides of the border. “Be prepared for some who may be trying to take advantage of you and overcharge for services,” she said. 

Several observers have called on the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) to do more to assist Sudanese people fleeing the violence. 

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“Is there a reason you're not pushing to provide humanitarian support to Sudanese people crossing the border?” Sudanese analyst Kholood Khair asked of the UNHCR's Egypt chapter.

“Processing time is three days between Sudanese and Egyptian authorities. People are stuck in no man's land with no water, food, or shelter.”

In a follow-up tweet, she asked similar questions of the refugee agency in Ethiopia. 

MEE has contacted the UNHCR for comment. 

On Wednesday, MEE reported that the UK government had no plans to introduce safe routes for Sudanese refugees fleeing the conflict, as it had done for Ukrainians last year. 

“The people of Sudan have nothing to do with this war. All they want is a safe place to stay. The British government should open safe routes for them,” a 30-year-old Sudanese asylum seeker in the UK told MEE. 

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