Sudanese dual citizens who returned home uprooted by conflict

Dual nationals are frustrated by their foreign embassies and make their own evacuation plans.

People are evacuated due to clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese army, in Port Sudan, Sudan, April 25, 2023
Sudanese are evacuated in Port Sudan on April 25, 2023 [Reuters]

Three years ago, Aamira Elamin, 40, left Washington, DC, her home for more than 15 years, with all of her belongings to return to Sudan.

She came with a renewed sense of hope in the North African country, arriving after the 2019 uprising that toppled President Omar al-Bashir after nearly three decades in power.

Elamin, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, is a doctor by profession and wanted to give back to her country, where she attended government-funded schooling.

But that hope was frayed when a coup in 2021 derailed Sudan’s fragile transition towards democracy, and it has now entirely evaporated since the country’s descent into open warfare between the army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary on April 15.

Elamin, a dual citizen of Sudan and the United States, was forced to flee the fighting. She said she feels betrayed by both the warring generals’ promises of a civilian government and by the US government’s evacuation efforts.

“I came to Khartoum like three years ago with a container shipped through the ocean with everything that I had in Washington, and I left Sudan [with just a few bags] now,” Elamin told Al Jazeera through tears from the Egyptian city of Aswan. Thousands of Sudanese have fled by road to the neighbouring country to the north.

The decision to leave was not easy for Elamin, who was born and raised in Khartoum.

Elamin spent most of her life until she was 25 under al-Bashir’s rule, and despite the instability during that time, she said it was more “manageable” than the recent fighting, which has killed nearly 460 people and wounded thousands.

“These were like actual killings and bombings and gunfire and shooting in the streets of Khartoum,” she said of the current violence.

“We’ve never witnessed something like that,” she said, describing the capital as one that had long been a safe haven for refugees and displaced people from neighbouring countries.

US embassy’s lack of help ‘frustrating’

When warplanes flew above her house in Khartoum, she knew it was time for her to leave.

Elamin was hopeful the US embassy would help her evacuate, but instead, she received only automated replies from them. It was “frustrating”, she says.

The automated message Elamin received from the US embassy in Sudan
An automated message Elamin received from the US embassy in Sudan [Courtesy of Aamira Elamin/Al Jazeera]

The US has evacuated its diplomats from the country and had at first said it had no plans to evacuate American citizens due to conditions on the ground. More than 15,000 US citizens live in Sudan, most of whom are believed to be dual nationals.

On Monday, however, the White House said it was assisting stranded Americans remotely, helping them link up with convoys of foreigners trying to make it across Sudan’s borders.

A number of other countries like China, France and Saudi Arabia have been engaged in evacuations of their nationals this past week.

Elamin said logistical complications with carrying out evacuations are understandable due to the fighting but the US has the experience of evacuating people from larger war zones such as Afghanistan in August 2021.

Ultimately, Elamin arranged her own evacuation, crossing into Egypt by bus on Sunday with her children in what was an unusually long, but otherwise smooth, 48-hour journey to reach Aswan.

Elamin was the first among her family to flee and had to leave behind relatives, including her sisters, aunts, uncles and all of their children, many of whom are not dual citizens and do not have valid passports.

Paperwork problems

Lubna, 38, who asked not to share her last name, is another Sudanese woman with a foreign nationality and family still in Sudan.

The homemaker moved to Khartoum in 2018 from the United Arab Emirates but was born and raised in Ireland by parents who are also Irish citizens.

Two days before the conflict erupted, she had taken her mother to Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, for a small medical procedure, leaving behind her husband, Mohamed, and two sons, aged 6 and 9.

Lubna has since been trying to get in touch with multiple Irish embassies to assist her family in leaving Sudan.

She was sent information about two European airlifts evacuating EU citizens – one Italian, one Dutch.

However, her husband and children are not Irish citizens themselves and could only be evacuated if they had legal proof of being Lubna’s family.

A screenshot of a message Lubna received from the Department of Foreign Affairs Ireland
A screenshot of a message Lubna received from Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs [Courtesy of Lubna/Al Jazeera]

But the family has not been able to get hold of any such paperwork, or any of their belongings, due to a raid on their home they believe was carried out by the RSF.

“Who is going to think of papers and IDs when you have the guns of the RSF hovering over your head?” Lubna told Al Jazeera.

The fighters forced her husband and children to leave their house and prohibited them from taking any belongings.

By sheer luck, the family’s passports were left in their car. It’s now what they are using to make their own journey out of Sudan. The three are planning to use a bus to reach Egypt and reunite soon with Lubna and her mother, who will travel from Saudi Arabia to Cairo this week.

Lubna admits she is luckier than most. Her husband is “well-to-do” – and ran an import-export business selling gum arabica. The conflict, however, has uprooted her life entirely.

She said the future she was creating for her family has vanished in a split second, leaving them unsure of where to go and what to do next.

She does not want to start over in Egypt, fearful of any xenophobic reaction to the influx of Sudanese crossing into the country.

She has not lived in Ireland in years, having met her husband in the UAE, where she also had her children. With few ties left in the European country, a return there would also be difficult, she said.

“Why does the international community allow wars to happen?” Lubna asked. “You’ve seen Ukraine. You’ve seen Syria. You’ve seen all of these things happening”.

A ‘right’ to be evacuated

Abdel, who also asked not to share his last name due to safety concerns, wonders the same thing.

“[The conflict is] the worst thing that happened in Sudan’s history,” he said. “I don’t care how it gets resolved. I just want it to end.”

Abdel, another dual citizen of Sudan and the US, is among those outside the capital who are relatively safe from the conflict.

He is currently in Madani, a city 160km (100 miles) southeast of Khartoum where residents from the capital have sought refuge. The influx of people is causing gas and housing shortages although people are still able to go about their normal lives, Abdel said.

Despite that, he’s worried about the conflict spreading to other cities.

Abdel expects the US embassy will come to his aid if the conflict forces him to leave Madani, home to nearly 400,000 people. He has registered himself with the US embassy in Sudan in anticipation of any unrest.

“I believe that the US government is obliged to evacuate citizens,” he told Al Jazeera. “This is my right to be evacuated by my country from a warzone.”

A safety route for all

Like many Sudanese grappling with their sudden, changed reality, the three dual citizens hope that the international community keeps an eye on the situation in Sudan.

The scramble by foreigners to flee the country has also heightened fears among some Sudanese of what will happen now that many diplomats who could have acted as potential mediators have gone.

Elamin worries about people who may get left behind in the conflict, simply due to the passport they hold – or don’t hold.

There should be a “safety route”, she said, based on humanitarian need, rather than on who is a national of which country.

Source: Al Jazeera