For Syrians in Sudan, returning home is not an option

Syrians fled to Sudan to avoid the war in their country. The prospect of going back is not one they want to consider.

People prepare to board a boat
Some Syrians have travelled to Port Sudan to board ships to Saudi Arabia. Others aren't so sure [Ibrahim Mohammed Ishak/Reuters]

Syrians living in Sudan had thought the sound of air strikes, missiles and gunfire was behind them.

They escaped the war in their country to move to Sudan, a fellow Arab country that welcomed them.

The recent outbreak of fighting between the Sudanese army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces has shattered the illusion of safety, however.

Once again, about 30,000 Syrian refugees who built new lives in Sudan face the threat of war – and the devastation that comes with it.

Syrian civilians have already died in Sudan, some of the more than 500 people killed in the 15 days of violence.

“Since the beginning of the clashes, the situation has become very dire in the capital, Khartoum,” said Saleh Ismail al-Badran, a 30-year-old Syrian refugee originally from Raqqa.

“Sudanese families began to flee the city and only foreign nationals – including Syrians, Egyptians, and citizens of African and European countries – remained on the streets on the first day of Eid al-Fitr [April 21].”

Al-Badran, who has lived in Khartoum for six years and is married to a Sudanese woman, told Al Jazeera he had initially been afraid of being attacked by the two factions in the conflict. However, he soon realised it was armed gangs, taking advantage of the deteriorating security situation, that had become more of a threat.

“Many Syrian families were threatened, robbed, and sometimes killed during their displacement from Khartoum at the hands of gangs. One of them was my friend, Ahmed, who was kidnapped with his family, while they were leaving Khartoum, by a gang,” al-Badran said.

“They stole all their possessions, including money and mobile phones, before one of the gang members killed Ahmed by shooting him twice in the head after he refused to let the gang search his wife.”

Travel to Egypt?

Many Syrian families in Khartoum have travelled towards Wadi Halfa, close to the Sudanese-Egyptian border, in an attempt to enter Egypt through the Argeen crossing, following a route that has now been taken by thousands of Sudanese.

However, al-Badran said Syrians have been denied entry by Egyptian border guards.

“Going to Egypt was my first choice, but I gave up on going after contacting my friends who went to the Egyptian border and explained to me how difficult the situation was there, [how tough] the desert is, and the difficulty of securing even drinking water amid the Egyptian forces’ refusal to allow them to enter,” he said.

Instead, al-Badran has decided, even with the constant shelling, to stay home in Khartoum with his wife and brother. A close friend and his family have also joined.

Going back to Syria is not an option. Al-Badran said he fled after being imprisoned for two years by the Syrian government, as well as the armed group ISIL (ISIS).

“No matter what happens to me and my family, I will never think of returning to Syria where there is the regime of [President] Bashar al-Assad,” al-Badran said.

‘That would be suicide’

Many of the Syrians who have left Khartoum have travelled to safer parts of the country, such as Port Sudan to the northeast.

But with rent prices high, and hotels even more expensive, many are sleeping on the streets as they wait for a place on ships taking evacuees to Saudi Arabia across the Red Sea.

“It took more than 12 hours to travel from Khartoum to Port Sudan, during which we lived unforgettable moments of fear, worrying that bandits would stand in our way,” said Abu Muhammad, a Syrian refugee from Eastern Ghouta, outside of Damascus, who has lived with his wife and two children in Khartoum for nine years.

Muhammad told Al Jazeera he left Khartoum with his family after clashes intensified and electricity and water were cut off from his neighbourhood.

“When I arrived in Port Sudan, we were surprised by the number of people of all nationalities who were waiting for their turn to be evacuated through the airport or seaport,” said Muhammad.

“Three days ago, we slept on the street near the evacuation centre in Port Sudan because I was unable to book a hotel room.

“I live today in a state of loss, unable to decide whether to stay in Port Sudan or go to Saudi Arabia. But we’ve heard if we go to Saudi Arabia we will be sent back to Syria. That would be suicide because my return to Syria means that I will be arrested by Assad’s forces.”

Source: Al Jazeera