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Efforts underway to improve humanitarian crisis at Egypt-Sudan border crossing

May 17, 2023 at 7:30 pm

Citizens are seen upon their arrival in Egypt’s Argeen Land port border crossing gate following their evacuation process from Sudan, due to clashes between the Sudanese army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) since April 15th, in Asvan, Egypt on April 27, 2023 [Adam Abdulfttah – Anadolu Agency]

Ongoing fighting between rival factions in Sudan has created a humanitarian crisis on the Egypt-Sudan border as thousands try to escape the horrors unfolding on the streets of Khartoum.

As people enter Egypt through Argeen, one of two border crossings where people can cross from Sudan, they are in desperate need of water, food, and medicine.

“Not many people or organisations have access to the border, so it is incredibly difficult to get needed assistance there,” Elena Habersky, a researcher on migration in Egypt, tells MEMO.

“All Egyptian border zones are active military zones by law, so trying to get humanitarian assistance there is incredibly challenging.”

In recent weeks, photos and videos from the frontier circulated on social media: Queues of people who have escaped air strikes wait under the scorching sun for paperwork.

Many suffered an arduous journey to get to the crossing, including negotiating RSF checkpoints, armed militia and the threat of abduction.

The price of bus tickets soared and whilst women can enter Egypt freely, men between 16 and 50 must apply for a visa at the Egyptian embassy or consulate.

READ: 940,000 flee their homes in Sudan

Because the consular office in Wadi Hafla can’t meet the high demand a visa black market has sprung up in which applicants can pay $400 to jump the queue, Reuters reported at the beginning of this month.

Some family members debate whether to leave male relatives behind and enter Egypt without them, hoping their loved ones will follow soon.

“There have been documented situations at the border that are harrowing,” says Habersky. “But from what I can tell when speaking with Sudanese friends and activists is that the situation at the border has slightly improved over the weeks and is less messy than when people started crossing.”

According to the UNHCR, by Sunday over 88,873 people had crossed the border from Sudan into Egypt mainly through the Argeen crossing.

Efforts are underway to try and help them settle in Egypt, including by Habersky, who has set up a fundraiser with a small and dedicated group of volunteers to provide food, nutrition, medical supplies and accommodation.

“We realise that the time it takes the UN and larger international organisations to mobilise is time lost when it is needed most,” she says.

“We know we can never have the institutional capacity these larger organisations have, but we can and have been mobilising and organising to meet small, everyday needs people have when crossing the border, like medicine, sanitary products, diapers, and formula.”

An open letter signed by over 300 journalists, academics and global organisations urging the UNHCR Egypt and the Egyptian government to provide more support for Sudanese people fleeing is also gaining traction.

The signatories ask that they establish welcome centres at the border to provide asylum seekers with food, water, shelter, and emergency healthcare and waive entry requirements for Sudanese and non-Sudanese nationals.

READ: Sudan: increased instances of rape lead doctor to post details of measures to take

The International Organisation for Migration estimates that before this latest wave of violence, there were already nearly 4 million Sudanese refugees in Egypt. In the past there have been reports of racism on the streets of Cairo.

In 2020 Sudanese migrants protesting the stabbing and killing of a 12-year-old boy by an Egyptian man were arrested, beaten with batons and subject to racist comments.

Amnesty International called on the Egyptian government to investigate; that same year two young men filmed themselves attacking a 14-year-old Sudanese boy.

Some have speculated over whether racism will worsen as more Sudanese cross the border. But so far, Habersky says they have been welcomed.

“There has been, overall, I would say, a positive reception. Of course there are challenges, but the history between Egypt and Sudan and its people has mobilised many Egyptians who are willing and able to assist those fleeing.”

“Naturally, we are all aware of past racial incidents, and I am not saying they have not or will not happen, but the general consensus I feel at least now from the general population is definitely one of hospitality. It is incredibly encouraging.”

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.