Sudanese families have been massing at a border crossing with Egypt and at a port city on the Red Sea, desperately trying to escape their country’s violence and sometimes waiting for days with little food or shelter, witnesses say.
In the capital, Khartoum, the intensity of the fighting eased on the second day of a three-day truce, and the military said it had “initially accepted” a diplomatic initiative to extend the current ceasefire for another three days after it expires on Thursday.
With the possibility of any future truce uncertain, many people took the opportunity presented during the lull in fighting to join the tens of thousands who have streamed out of the capital in recent days, trying to get out of the crossfire between the forces of Sudan’s two top generals.
Food has grown more difficult to obtain, and electricity is cut off across much of the capital and other cities. Multiple aid agencies have had to suspend operations, a heavy blow in a country where a third of the population of 46 million relies on humanitarian assistance.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said only one in four hospitals in the capital is fully functional and the fighting has disrupted assistance to 50,000 children who are acutely malnourished.
Many Sudanese fear the two sides will escalate their battle once the international evacuations of foreigners that began on Sunday are completed. The British government, whose airlift is one of the last still ongoing, said it has evacuated about 300 people on flights out and plans four more on Wednesday, promising to keep going as long as possible.
Large numbers of other people have been making the exhausting daylong drive across the desert to access points out of the country – to the city of Port Sudan on the eastern Red Sea coast and to the Arqin crossing into Egypt at the northern border.
Crowds of Sudanese and foreigners have waited in Port Sudan, trying to register for a ferry to Saudi Arabia. Dallia Abdelmoniem, a Sudanese political commentator, said she and her family arrived on Monday and have been trying to get a spot. “Priority was given to foreign nationals,” she said.
She and some of her extended family, mostly women and children, took a 26-hour bus journey to reach the port, during which they passed military checkpoints and small villages where people offered them cold hibiscus juice.
“These folk have very little, but they offered every single passenger on all these buses and trucks something to make their journey better,” she said.
At the Arqin crossing, families have been spending nights outside in the desert, waiting to be let into Egypt. Buses have lined up at the crossing.
“It’s a mess – long lines of elderly people, patients, women and children waiting in miserable conditions,” said Moaz al-Ser, a Sudanese teacher who arrived along with his wife and three children at the border a day earlier.
Tens of thousands of Khartoum residents have also fled to neighboring provinces or even into already existing camps within Sudan that house survivors of past conflicts.