Egypt has announced a new policy requiring all citizens of neighbouring Sudan to obtain visas before crossing the border as a United States and Saudi Arabia-brokered ceasefire took effect in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.
The Egyptian foreign ministry imposed the new regulations on Saturday, justifying the move as a crackdown on “illegal activities” including fraud.
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The decision was a reversal of a longstanding exemption for children, women and elderly men.
More than 200,000 Sudanese nationals have entered Egypt, most of them through land crossings, since fighting broke out two months ago between the army, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), commanded by Burhan’s former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo.
The intense clashes have killed more than 1,800 people, according to a monitoring group, and displaced more than 1.9 million.
The Egyptian foreign ministry said the new visa procedures aim to regulate “the entry of the brotherly Sudanese [people] into Egypt after more than 50 days of crisis” in their country.
It said the new requirements were not designed to “prevent or limit” the entry of Sudanese nationals but to stop “illegal activities by individuals and groups on the Sudanese side of the border, who forged entry visas” for profit.
“Egypt has welcomed more than 200,000 Sudanese citizens since the start of the crisis… adding to the approximately five million Sudanese citizens who were already present” in the country before the war, it added.
Egypt’s foreign ministry stressed in its statement that its consulates in Sudan have been provided with “the necessary electronic devices to carry out these regulations in a precise, rapid and safe manner, ensuring the orderly entry of Sudanese citizens”.
People who took the long journey to the Egyptian-Sudanese border have complained of poor conditions and long wait times.
On Saturday, two people attempting to cross the Ashkeit border said they had been turned back as the new rule had taken effect.
“We spent two nights in the neutral territory and now they are turning us back,” Dr Sundus Abbas, speaking to Reuters by phone from between the countries’ checkpoints, said.
“Some people are refusing to leave,” she added.
The new rules were imposed as a 24-hour ceasefire took effect in Khartoum, providing a window for humanitarian assistance and giving the public a break from the intense fighting.
Previous ceasefires had allowed some humanitarian access but aid agencies reported still being impeded by the fighting, bureaucratic control and looting.
Medical aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières said on Saturday that its staff had been stopped by RSF soldiers and “obliged” to make a statement that was later circulated by the forces.
Sudan’s army and the RSF, a parallel force that has operated legally since 2017, fell out over plans to integrate their troops and reorganise their chain of command as part of a transition towards civilian rule four years after a popular uprising removed strongman President Omar al-Bashir.