Fleeing Sudan: ‘I had to do it for my daughter’

Hamsa Alfaki shares her experience of having to leave her father in Khartoum as she fled for the border with Egypt.

Buses lined up to carry people out of Sudan [Courtesty of Hamsa Alfaki]

Hamsa Alfaki lived happily in Khartoum North with her six-year-old daughter, parents and sister. About a year after she started a new job with the Norwegian Refugee Council, she found herself faced with having to flee her home herself.

The 32-year-old never thought she would find herself in this position, torn between home and seeking safety from fighting between Sudan’s army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Here she tells Al Jazeera in her own words how that experience has impacted her.

‘I wasn’t prepared’

At one point, we left our house in Khartoum and went to my uncle’s place in Abu Halima, about half an hour north of Khartoum North. It’s a quiet place where we had nature all around us, and it feels safe.

But then the shooting, once again, crept closer.

I wasn’t prepared, physically or mentally, when my sister woke me up early one morning and told me we had to pack immediately because there was a bus about to leave for Halfa on the Egyptian border. We were leaving, she said.

I really didn’t want to leave, but my mother was distraught. She wanted to leave and begged me not to make her go alone. I also had to keep my six-year-old daughter safe, I couldn’t make her stay in Khartoum with me.

My inner voice tells me not to worry. Everything will be fine. Think of this as a vacation, and enjoy it.

I rushed back home to pack. A glance into our neighbour’s garden startled me. There were soldiers hiding under a tree there – looked like they had run for cover as fighting enveloped the neighbourhood.

As I packed, questions and fears began running through my head. Should I take something to remind me of home?

No, Hamsa, I told myself, this will end soon, and you’ll come back and continue your life.

Will it, though? If it doesn’t, then what? Will I end up asking for asylum somewhere else?

And so I packed, mechanically, like I was going on holiday – but with a heavy heart.

Like me, my 81-year-old father didn’t want to leave. Except he stayed. Nobody could make him go. He insisted that whatever was meant to happen to him would happen anyway. He said he worried about leaving our house empty as there was a lot of theft happening.

There was no water and no electricity in the house, and I had no idea how he would look after himself. So I dashed into our neighbours’ place to ask them to care for him, to at least give him one proper meal a day.

Hamsa Sudan / Egypt
This is where a family slept for three nights as they waited for a bus to Egypt. Eventually, they were able to board the same bus as Hamsa [Courtesy of Hamsa Alfaki]

The bus: ‘I had to put on a brave face’

Our bus to Egypt had 19 people on it. Eight were my family. We were all women and children except for the driver and a man who came with his wife and three daughters.

We paid $400 for each seat, but I couldn’t afford to pay for my daughter, so I kept her on my lap the whole way.

It took about 20 hours to reach Halfa. I was really scared on the road because I’d heard stories about looting and all sorts of things happening. There were a lot of checkpoints on the way, some manned by the RSF, some by the Sudanese army.

I had to stay strong and put on a brave face for my daughter and the other kids with us. They would get scared every time we passed armed people. I tried to reassure them that everything would be fine while trying to think positively for my own peace.

The driver announced at one point that he had to change routes as there was fighting ahead of us, I’m not sure who he got his news from. We would have to take a 290km (180-mile) detour to Halfa. Thankfully, the road we took was calm, so it was worth it.

Buses heading to the Egyptian border [Courtesty of Hamsa Alfaki]

Halfa ‘chaotic’ and ‘crowded’

We arrived in Halfa in the evening. It’s very chaotic here, so many people from all over Sudan were trying to cross into Egypt.

We couldn’t find a place to stay. Hospitals, schools, mosques, parks and people’s houses are full of fleeing people. We had nowhere to go.

We finally found a gym where the owner let us stay the night but said we had to leave in the morning as clients would come to exercise.

We had to go to a health clinic to get the yellow fever vaccination card required to enter Egypt. It took forever. The line to register seemed like it would never end. And that was before we even got the vaccine.

Thank God, the second night, we found good people who allowed us to stay the night in their house.

Parts of the house were still under construction, but it worked for us, and we were grateful. We had a roof, a bathroom and running water. That was all we needed. So for at least one day, we were good, Alhamdulillah.

I pray for the war to stop, but I know that even when it does, it will take a long time and a big effort to recover since so much is ruined.

That will be the time when I can go back and help my country.

Alfaki wrote this on April 28. She is now in Cairo, Egypt, temporarily staying with a cousin as her sister tries to find accommodation for them. 

Source: Al Jazeera