HomeHow ToSudan ceasefire holds, barely, but there’s border chaos as thousands try to flee fighting between generals
Sudan ceasefire holds, barely, but there’s border chaos as thousands try to flee fighting between generals
April 28, 2023
Cairo — A fragile ceasefire in Sudan appeared to be clinging on Friday morning, despite heavy explosions and gunfire echoing across the capital city of Khartoum and the adjacent city of Omdurman. But the shaky ceasefire between Sudan’s two top generals, whose vicious power struggle has left more than 500 people dead, wasn’t nearly enough to staunch a flow of civilians — Sudanese and foreign nationals — desperate to escape the country.
There are believed to be hundreds of American nationals trapped in Sudan, and the U.S. government has announced no plans for evacuation flights or other efforts to get those people to safety, as European and other nations have been doing all week.
The danger of such evacuation operations amid the chaos in Sudan was made clear Friday as Turkey said one of its aircraft was hit by gunfire just outside the capital, though there were no causalities reported.
The reports of new violence Friday came just hours after both sides said they had accepted a 72-hour extension of a ceasefire that expired Thursday evening. The warring generals appeared to be constraining their battle for control of the east African nation as other countries tried to get their own civilians out.
But Sudan’s own people have even fewer options. Thousands have flocked to Sudan’s borders, including its northern frontier with Egypt, hoping to escape. Egyptian authorities said Thursday that 16,000 non-Egyptians had entered the country from Sudan in just a few days, and more than 5,300 Egyptian nationals were evacuated.
But thousands of civilians remain stuck at Egyptian-Sudanese border crossings in circumstances described to CBS News as dire.
A Sudanese university student who made it across the border into Egypt on Wednesday told CBS News the situation when she left Khartoum was “terrible.”
“We couldn’t sleep, and all we heard was gunshots and aircraft. There was no water, no electricity, and we were just trying to survive,” said the woman, who asked that her name not be published. She said that when she finally arrived at the Egyptian border, after a very long bus ride, thousands were already waiting there.
“People were sleeping on the ground and children were crying,” she said. “There was a lack of food and water and no bathrooms that humans can actually use.”
Egypt does not require Sudanese women or children to have a visa to enter the country, but men up to the age of 50 do need the documentation. That has meant that some families have been forced to split up as men wait for visas.
Ebtihal al-Neaamah told CBS News that she finally made it to Cairo on Friday with her children, but her brother had been forced to stay behind.
“We were traveling together, me and my kids and my brother and other relatives, most of them women,” she said. “My brother couldn’t enter with us because he didn’t have a visa. Even after he told them, ‘I am with my sister and she has kids,’ and that he is helping me.”
She said it was now difficult to keep in touch with her brother as the fighting has cut power to many parts of Sudan, leaving people unable to charge their phones.
It’s not clear who is being granted visas or visa exemptions to enter Egypt, and Sudanese people have said information is increasingly hard to come by. At first, Egyptian authorities appeared to be granting many exemptions, which encouraged even more people to head to the border, but as the crowds grew after more than a week of violence in Sudan, al-Neaamah said there was little reliable information available.
The student who crossed the border Wednesday told CBS News she saw some Sudanese civilians crossing the border into Egypt and then realizing they had no idea what to do next.
“Some have no money to get on the train, no food or water. They were afraid, and they had to leave Sudan, but they don’t have any further plan about what to do,” she said.
After making it safely into Egypt, she joined other people in the southern Egyptian city of Aswan, about 100 miles north of the border, collecting donations to buy food, water and medicine to help other new arrivals.
Mahmoud Mahdi, a representative of the Sudanese American Physicians Association who left his country last month and spoke Friday to CBS News in Egypt’s capital Cairo, said the priority for his organization and others trying to help was the people still stuck at the two border crossings between the nations.
Those two crossings, at Wadi Halfa and Argeen, are very different. Wadi Halfa is a city, and local residents have opened their homes and schools to shelter the influx of refugees. But Mahdi said the situation was worse at Argeen, which is in the desert and far from the nearest Sudanese city.
Mahdi said there were an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 people stuck at the two border crossings.
“We have been trying to coordinate with the Egyptian Red Crescent, but they are telling us the government is not giving them the needed permits to allow us to go to the borders,” he said.
Mahdi, a doctor himself, said his organization was also trying to work with local Egyptian humanitarian organizations, as it may be easier for them to obtain the required permits to deliver aid to the border.
Some Sudanese civilians still in the country have taken it upon themselves to try to help those stuck at the crossings.
Dr. Abeer Dirar told CBS News that she heard about the horrible circumstances at Argeen, including reports that two people had died there, and decided to do what she could.
She told CBS News she spent all of Thursday morning with a few friends shopping for essentials and making sandwiches to bring to those stuck on the Sudanese side of the desert crossing point.