Cold shoulder treatment: Sudanese refugees fleeing crisis given meagre support abroad
On April 15, 2023, Sudan was plunged into a war that has since forced the country into crisis. More than 5.6 million people have been displaced, with more than a million fleeing Sudan to find safety abroad.
However, rather than finding shelter and security, Sudanese families have found their adopted countries full of worry and hardship.
Muhamad Adam, a 28-year-old photographer and activist, previously lived in Geneina in Sudan. However, that all changed when the conflict erupted and the military oversaw a massacre in his home town.
Muhamad and his friends went about documenting the military's brutalities in Geneina by publishing photography and reporting online. But the military soon caught wind of Muhamad's movements.
"I don't know what happened to my friend, Abdelaziz. I don't even know if he is alive or in prison"
"They raided our workspace, killed my friend Mudather, and destroyed all our photographic material and equipment. We had to flee," Muhamad sighed.
On June 25, Muhamad decided to seek refuge in Chad. Unfortunately, along the way, he lost contact with many of his friends.
"We separated into different groups. My group walked for 11 gruelling hours to get to the city where we were sheltering — the military was actively searching for us. I don't know what happened to my friend, Abdelaziz. I don't even know if he is alive or in prison."
While Muhamad was able to escape, his family stayed behind as they were unable to take the dangerous route to Chad. Thankfully, they have since found refuge in different parts of Sudan, but they are now scattered around the country, miles apart.
Others took a different journey to Muhamad. As the war unfolded, a family with dual Sudanese/Irish nationality decided to stick together and embark on their journey together from the start.
Emad Aly and his children held Irish and Sudanese citizenship, while his wife had only Sudanese citizenship. When a leaflet directed European passport holders to evacuate to the military base in "Wadi Sidna," they realised that they had to retrieve their passports and documents before leaving.
However, the leaflet also stated that individuals were responsible for their own safety. Despite the danger, Emad decided to return home to retrieve their passports. When he arrived, he found everything in a state of devastation, but luckily the passports were still in good condition.
Emad's family found refuge at the Wadi Sidna military base where many refugees from different nationalities were also sheltered. The base had strict limitations on leaving the premises and was managed by British soldiers who were responsible for the evacuation.
Emad's family was provided with all the necessary supplies, including food and diapers for their baby. They were later evacuated to Cyprus via a military aircraft and then headed to Birmingham, which was not what they had expected.
Emad's family faced uncertainty when they arrived in Birmingham and found themselves without benefits or financial support due to the nationality of Emad's wife.
The situation was complicated by the ongoing crisis in Sudan, which prevented her from claiming asylum, benefits, or processing her documents as the spouse of an Irish citizen.
As a result, the family struggled without adequate financial assistance and had to live in a hotel with no kitchen or washing machine for several weeks before moving to a house. Despite this, financial support was only claimed for Emad, leaving his wife and two children with no updates.
"We think the targeting of the aid centre wasn't just a coincidence, it was a deliberate act aimed at targeting Sudanese citizens, particularly those from Darfur and Kordofan in Western Sudan"
Emad's situation is similar to that of Omer Aziz, a British journalist who had also fled Sudan in a similar evacuation plan. Since arriving in May, Omer was unable to secure housing and was registered as legally homeless within the system.
However, he persevered and worked hard to seek employment and accommodation, navigating the ongoing housing crisis in the UK independently, without any help from the UK government to the trauma they all faced in Sudan.
Meanwhile, those travelling to Egypt faced a different story. Egypt is currently in the midst of an economic crisis and has no financial support system for refugees. Instead, they rely on charities.
However, the government has initiated an opportunity for re-enrollment in education.
Sudanese families face many hardships, and some of them depend on support from relatives abroad.
One such family is Hweida Saleh, an activist with the Elmazna charity organisation that helps families affected by hereditary blood disorders.
Hweida reported that just two weeks ago, the blood bank was destroyed, and they are currently reaching out to different charitable organizations to aid families affected by blood disorders in the Foula neighbourhood and the surrounding area.
The Elmazna charity organisation was established in West Sudan in November 2017. Unfortunately, the conflict led to the total destruction of the aid centre, leaving the families with no medical aid in the area. Hweida is working hard to support them from Egypt.
Hweida told The New Arab: "The destruction of the aid centre was incredibly disheartening. Many families arrived at the centre, only to find that all of the medical aid was missing. We think the targeting of the aid centre wasn't just a coincidence, it was a deliberate act aimed at targeting Sudanese citizens, particularly those from Darfur and Kordofan in Western Sudan."
Sudanese escaping the conflict are plagued by new challenges abroad. Shedding light on their experiences is important to show how the Sudanese people face collective hardship in these times, and how many have shown incredible determination and fortitude in adversity.
Mariam Elsayeh Ibrahim is a freelance journalist and story producer currently based in the United Kingdom
Follow her on Twitter: @mariam_elsayeh