Sudanese fleeing clashes flood port city, borders with Egypt

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Cairo: Sudanese fleeing the fighting between rival generals in their capital flooded an already overwhelmed city on the Red Sea and Sudan’s northern borders with Egypt, as explosions and gunfire echoed on Tuesday in Khartoum.

Many exhausted Sudanese and foreigners arrived in Port Sudan, the country’s main seaport, joining thousands who have waited for days to be evacuated out of the chaos-stricken nation.

Others have been driven in packed buses and trucks, seeking shelter in Egypt, Sudan’s northern neighbour.

“Much of the capital has become empty,” said Abdalla al-Fatih, a Khartoum resident, “all (residents of) our street fled the war.”

The fighting, now in its third week, has turned Khartoum and its neighbouring city of Omdurman into a battlefield. Fierce clashes taking place inside residential neighbourhoods that have become “ghost areas”, residents say.

The conflict, which capped months of worsening tensions, pits the military, led by Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, against a rival paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces, commanded by Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.

Al-Fatih’s family managed to get out of Khartoum over the weekend after they spent the past two weeks trapped in their home in Khartoum’s neighbourhood of Kafouri, a major flashpoint since the fighting broke out on April 15.

They arrived in Port Sudan late on Monday, after an exhausting 20-hour trip, he said. There, they found thousands, including many women and children, camping outside the port area. Many had been there for more than a week, with no food and other services, he said.

Port Sudan has become a hub for foreign governments to evacuate their citizens air and sea.

At the congested crossing points with Egypt, thousands of families have waited for days inside buses or sought temporary shelter in the border city of Wadi Halfa to finalise their paperwork to be allowed into Egypt.

Yusuf Abdel-Rahman is a Sudanese university student who crossed into Egypt along his family, through the Ashkit crossing point late on Monday. They spent their night at a community hostel in Egypt’s southern city of Aswan, and plan to board a train to Cairo later on Tuesday, he said.

Abdel-Rahman’s family went first to the Arqin crossing point over the weekend. It was overcrowded and they couldn’t reach the customs area. They then decided to move to the Ashkit crossing after they heard from people there that the crossing would be easier, he said.

“It’s a chaotic situation (in Arqin),” he said over the phone. “Women, children and patients are stranded in the desert with no food, no water.”

Abdel-Rahman reported widespread destruction and looting particularly in upscale neighbourhood in the capital. He said a neighbour told them by phone said armed men in RSF uniform stormed their home in Khartoum’s Amarat neighbourhood on Friday, a day after they fled the capital.

Many Sudanese have taken to social media to complain that their homes were stormed and looted by armed men.

“We are lucky” that they didn’t at home at the time of storming,” he said. “We could be ended up dead bodies.”

The fighting has displaced at least 334,000 people inside Sudan, and sent tens of thousands more to neighbouring countries, including Egypt, Chad, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Ethiopia, according to UN agencies.

“Now we’re seeing some extremely fast-moving situations along the borders,” said Paul Dillon, spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration, told a news briefing on Tuesday in Geneva.

At the Sudanese borders with Ethiopia, he said, between 900 and 1,000 arrive daily at the border with Ethiopia where “there’s a desperate lack of wash services, food, shelter, water, medical assistance”.

At least 20,000 people crossed into Chad, which borders the Darfur city of Genena where clashes last week killed dozens and wounded hundreds.

Aleksandra Roulet-Cimpric, Chad Country Director with the International Rescue Committee, described dire conditions for the arrivals, many of whom — mainly women and children –- have taken shelter under trees in an “extremely hot” weather.

“This leaves them particularly at risk of exploitation and abuse,” she warned.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi warned that the number of people fleeing the conflict to neighbouring countries could surpass 800,000.

“We hope it doesn’t come to that, but if violence doesn’t stop we will see more people forced to flee Sudan seeking safety,” he wrote on Twitter Monday.

Early on Tuesday, the sounds of explosions and gunfire echoed though many parts of the capital, with fierce clashes taking place around the military’s headquarters, the international airport and the Republican Palace in Khartoum, residents reported.

The military’s warplanes were seen flying overhead across the capital, they said.

The fighting has come despite both sides declared on Sunday a second, three-day extension of a humanitarian cease-fire to allow safe corridors for healthcare workers and aid agencies working in the capital.

“The war never stopped,” said Atiya Abdalla Atiya, Secretary of the Doctors’ Syndicate. “Doctors can’s move safely. Hospitals were still occupied.”

Morgues across the capital are overcrowded with dead bodies and people were still unable to collect their dead to bury, he said. Many injured also did not have access to hospitals, he added.

At least 436 civilians have been killed and more than 1,200 injured since the fighting began, according to figures on Monday by the Doctors’ Syndicate, which tracks civilian casualties.

As of a week ago, the Sudanese Health Ministry had counted at least 530 people killed, including civilians and combatants, with another 4,500 wounded, but those figures haven’t been updated since.

The truce extension was a result of increasing international pressure on rival generals to stop fighting and engage in negotiation amid worsening humanitarian disaster. Both sides agreed to send representatives for talks potentially in Saudi Arabia, which joined the United States in pressing for cease-fire, according the UN envoy in Sudan, Volker Perthes.

The power struggle has derailed Sudan’s efforts to restore its democratic transition, which was derailed in October 2021 when then allied generals, Burhan and Dagalo, removed a western backed transitional government in a coup.

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