How my family and I left everything and fled Sudan for Egypt

When a missile hit Noon Abdel Bassit’s home on day four of the conflict, her family made plans to leave the country.

Noon Abdel Bassit and her family
Noon Abdel Bassit and her family [Courtesy of Ahmed El-Badawy/Al Jazeera]

On the morning of April 19, Noon Abdel Bassit and her family climbed on board a bus in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. It was the beginning of a 48-hour journey to seek safety in Egypt. The 21-year-old medical student spoke to Al Jazeera about why her family decided to flee and why they weren’t all able to make it safely across the border. Her account has been edited for length and clarity.

Nobody knew this war was going to start. The conflict started very suddenly. Even the day of, we woke up, my siblings had gone to university, my mum was getting dressed to go to work.

Then, suddenly, people start calling and saying that there are shootings going on, that the country isn’t safe and that nobody should move.

By the night of the first day is when they started bombing and using fighter jets – and that’s when it got really scary.

We were all staying indoors, and every hour we heard gunshots, bombs and missiles being shot at everywhere throughout the city. Our house would vibrate, so it was very hard for us to try and live our normal lives.

We couldn’t leave. We couldn’t go anywhere. We tried to stock up on food and water, but all the supermarkets and shops were closed.

On day four, we woke up to a missile strike that hit our house. All of our windows and doors got shattered. Our house was very heavily damaged.

It’s then we thought, OK, regardless of what’s happening, it’s not worth it for us to lose our lives over it. So that’s when we decided that we had to evacuate.

Making preparations to leave

We didn’t really have many options for leaving. It was either taking the drive up all the way to the border of Egypt or going and seeking refuge in one of the villages or cities outside of Khartoum.

My mom predicted that this unrest will spread to outer cities so the safe option was for us to go to Egypt.

We started doing our research. At the time, we didn’t know anyone that had gone. Every time we mentioned this to anyone or asked anyone if they wanted to come with us, they thought we were crazy.

In the end, it didn’t really take too many arrangements.

We hopped on a bus on day five of the conflict without thinking about the consequences or what could happen – and just left.

The bus the Abdel Bassit family took to the border of Egypt
The bus the Abdel Bassit family took to the border of Egypt [Courtesy of Noon Abdel Bassit/Al Jazeera]

Journey to the Egyptian border

We barely packed anything. Each person just took their phone, their laptop, a bit of money and a few pairs of clothing.

We drove to Soba, which is a relatively safer neighbourhood of Khartoum as of now.

That’s where the bus driver picked us up. We took a bus that regularly travels to Egypt, renting one out for our relatives and family friends and which has a capacity of 50 people.

We rented out our bus for 2 million Sudanese pounds, which came out to 50,000 per person, a little under $100. But now, these prices have increased drastically. People are paying up to 40 million per bus and they’re not even finding buses.

On the way, we were stopped by three checkpoints, once by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and then twice by the Sudanese military.

They all went very smoothly, as at the time we left, there was a ceasefire going on. They just asked where we were coming from and where we were going. When they realised that we were family and that there were kids and elders with us, they just let us go.

We had left Khartoum at 10am and made it to the border by 2am. By the time we actually crossed into Egypt, it was around 6am.

One border, different visa rules

All Sudanese women, children and elders above 50 years old can enter Egypt without a visa. It’s just men aged 16 to 49 that need a visa issued before entering Egypt.

So unfortunately, we had to leave behind my brother and two of my uncles who are trying to get a visa now.

The Sudanese city that the border is in is called Halfa. There’s a consulate there that issues visas to people crossing over. They were told that it was going to open yesterday, but it still wasn’t open.

They waited until this morning, but it still has not opened. Word is being spread now that it’s not going to open at all because of the war, so there’s just hundreds and hundreds of men now at the border.

Sudanese men who carry other nationalities and foreigners in general who carry American, British or any other European nationality can get a visa on arrival for $25.

Our group consisted of Americans, Swedes and Irish who were all able to get a visa on arrival.

That was one of the other reasons why we’re so upset. Why can a person with a foreign nationality get a visa on arrival, yet a Sudanese man who would normally get their visa for free, not be allowed a visa on arrival and have to be sent back?

The family had to wait multiple hours at the Sudan-Egypt border
The family had to wait for hours at the Sudanese-Egyptian border [Courtesy of Noon Abdel Bassit/Al Jazeera]

So after we crossed the border, it was another four hours to the nearest city, Aswan. There, we got dropped off at the bus station. We took a taxi to get to the train station and had to wait a couple of hours until the next train. Then, we got on a 14-hour train to Cairo.

One of my family members rented an apartment here in Cairo, so we’re all staying here.

As of now, we haven’t really thought about what we’re going to do next. We first want to ensure that my brother and my uncles get here.

We get in touch with them only for brief moments because the internet service is really bad. As of today, we haven’t been able to get in touch with them at all.

A message for fellow Sudanese and the world

The first tip that I always tell everyone thinking of making the same journey is to not think too much about it. I know it’s a scary trip, but trust your instinct and go for it.

Pack lightly and make sure you have plenty of drinking water because the journey is really long and it gets really hot and dry in the desert.

Have snacks, a first aid kit and, definitely for women, have a scarf and be dressed modestly.

Meanwhile, we’re calling upon the international community and governments to help Sudan. More news agencies need to hear us and share our stories.

We are also calling on the Egyptian government to cancel all visa requirements, for now at least, so Sudanese people can pass these borders safely.

The situation at the border now is very, very, very chaotic. People are stuck there for 24 hours with babies and elders.

The number of buses that are coming in are numerous, and the situation is just very disastrous.

We need help.

A view out the window along the family's journey
A view out the bus window along the family’s journey [Courtesy of Noon Abdel Bassit/Al Jazeera]
Source: Al Jazeera