An official told local media that the Gulf state is working on evacuating Qatar’s residents from Sudan.
Desperate to flee violence as airports are shut, tens of thousands are seeking a safe exit from Sudan amid its deadliest conflict in years.
Far from the shores of their home, the Sudanese diaspora around the world have been fixated on television and mobile screens as they anxiously witness the developments unravel in Sudan, desperately trying to navigate a way out for their families.
In Qatar, where at least 60,000 Sudanese expats reside, young members of the community have taken up the crucial role of directing their families and relatives back home as they delicately side step conflict areas to reach the borders. Many of those in trouble are residents of the State of Qatar.
For Mohammed Baldo, a British father and resident of Qatar, the last two weeks have been excruciating.
“I have been trying to get my two-year-old daughter and wife to safety but I am out of options.
Baldo’s two-and-a-half year-old child, Leila, a citizen of the United Kingdom, travelled to Khartoum with her mother, a Sudanese national to spend time with the family during Eid holidays.
When the UK announced plans to evacuate its nationals this week, Baldo said his child was not given equal treatment as other British nationals due to her mother’s nationality.
“My daughter is British. She has the right to be evacuated. Her life is as valuable as any other British person. She has the same rights as every other British person, not because her mother is not British makes her less British or gives her less rights to be evacuated,” a frustrated Baldo told Doha News.
Initial contact with the crisis centre at the UK’s foreign office suggested Leila would be evacuated with her mother given that she is a minor. The centre also told Baldo to “stay put” when the violence first erupted until evacuations are arranged.
However, the mother and her child have now been rejected as the deadly conflict continues to intensify.
“The question I want to ask the UK is why is the life of a British citizen that’s two-and-a-half years old, less valuable or less important than the Ukrainians that were flown out from Ukraine[…]and they were given homes and places to live in, in the UK and they were not British? But my daughter is British, but she’s not being allowed to be evacuated?” Baldo said.
Baldo said he also spoke to the home office and sent several messages to his MP, but to no avail.
“They’re all giving me the same information that my, my wife, my daughter cannot be evacuated because her mother is not British and she has no visa to go to the UK,” Baldo said.
“Am I supposed to send my two-year-old without her mother?”
On 14 April, fighting broke out in Khartoum under a power struggle between the Sudanese army, headed by General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary unit led by former militia leader General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, widely known as Hemedti.
Numerous attempts at reaching a ceasefire have appeared to be futile, with each armistice being broken by the warring sides, both of which have continued to exchange blame over the fighting.
The country’s population of more than 45 million now faces an uncertain future and masses are fleeing their homes in search for safety.
Thousands of families, including children and the elderly, have taken on an arduous, costly journey to neighbouring countries, including Egypt and Chad—both of which have their fair share of economic and humanitarian struggles.
This week, governments around the world began evacuating their citizens.
In a statement to Doha News, Qatar’s foreign ministry spokesperson Dr. Majed Al-Ansari said that “all Qatari citizens who were in Khartoum during the past few days were evacuated to Port Sudan, and from there to Jeddah.”
“The spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reaffirmed Qatar’s keenness on a rapid and immediate ceasefire in Sudan. He stressed the need for a peaceful resolution and dialogue, as well as support for regional and international efforts to accelerate the cease-fire and to resolve the crisis through diplomatic means,” he added.
However, on Wednesday, a source informed Qatari newspaper Al Sharq that the Gulf state’s embassy in Khartoum is currently working on evacuating Qatar’s residents and those from the Gulf Cooperation Council from Port Sudan through Jeddah.
Doha News has reached out to authorities in Qatar but has yet to receive confirmation on the evacuation of residents.
“Qatar stepped up to help evacuate thousands of people desperate for safety in Afghanistan. There are so many residents of Qatar now in need of help in Sudan. Who will help me get my daughter,” Baldo pleaded.
‘You either make it, or you don’t’
Ahmad, a 24-year-old Sudanese expat in Qatar, managed to help his mother, sister, aunt, and 90-year-old grandmother flee the country to neighbouring Egypt by arranging their seats on a bus. That journey took four days.
“They had to leave all their belongings, houses and everything and take only what they could carry,” Ahmad told Doha News on Tuesday.
But the buses transporting them were not any safer than the conflict zone.
“Nothing is certain as they might or might not reach the bus location. As they go they face multiple checkpoints both from each side of the war, the RSF and military,” Ahmad said, as some of his remaining family members remain in limbo back home.
Meanwhile, 25-year-old Sudanese expat Ayah said some of her family managed to flee to Egypt and other villages outside of Khartoum to escape the violence.
However, some of her friend’s family members could not make it out alive and others were looted by the RSF.
“Just yesterday, my sister’s friend was trying to leave the house to go to Egypt, and her mother and two uncles were killed. She got shot in her leg, just because! They weren’t a threat or anything, they were just trying to leave,” Ayah told Doha News.
The Sudanese Doctors’ Syndicate said on Tuesday that the number of civilian casualties since the start of the violence has reached at least 291, with at least 1,699 injured. It also said that 13 hospitals were bombed.
However, agencies under the United Nations said at least 427 people have been killed and more than 3,700 have been injured since the start of the violence.
Scarce resources and exploitation
Necessities such as food, water and electricity have become scarce, with infants at orphanages dying due to the lack of formula. The poor internet connection and mobile networks have also exacerbated the worries of families awaiting a response from relatives fleeing Sudan.
“I literally have to keep trying to contact them as they either are out of phone connection or weren’t able to charge their phone two days of their four-day journey. My only hope was praying or literally asking people if they used the same bus as my fam did hoping to allocate their current situation,” Ahmad said, recounting the time his family fled Sudan.
Aside from the resources, many who have fled Sudan said transportation companies in the conflict-hit country have exploited the situation, with the average cost for a seat on a bus at almost $100.
Journey to Egypt
Those wanting to leave the country must take a 14 hour journey between Khartoum and Argeen Border, where they spend five hours.
From the Argeen Border, the asylum seekers must head to Karkar Bus Station in a four hour trip, before taking another 40 minute ride to Aswan train station.
The journey between Aswan to Cairo then requires around 14 hours.
However, the actual timing of the trip varies depending on the duration of the stops and time it takes to process documents.
Other challenges include visa requirements.
Those who experienced the journey told Al Jazeera on Monday that women, children and seniors above the age of 50 are allowed to enter the country without a visa. On the other hand, men between 16-49 years of age require a pre-issued visa, forcing families to leave behind their men.
On the other hand, western passport holders can easily enter with a visa on arrival for $25.
Meanwhile, Sudanese globally have been sharing document links and fact cards in order to figure out a way to help people back home, whether it is through food distribution or payments for urgent phone services.
But the monetary aid is only enough to temporarily keep families afloat as they continue to face the horrors on the ground.
“They are scared they hear gunshots and weapons around their areas. Some of my cousins were able to leave their area which was horrible and because they are children they keep having constant panic attacks due to the trauma,” Ayah said.
As the war continues, the feeling of helplessness only increases, especially among the Sudanese diaspora who experience what has been widely described as “survivor’s guilt”.
“It’s horrible to feel like you can’t help or protect any of the people you know there. All we can do is to pray and share updates through social media. I would say the community bond through social media is what gives us hope in this situation,” Ayah said.