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Sudan: Border countries must give people fleeing conflict immediate access for asylum

© AFP via Getty Images

More than 560,000 have fled the ongoing crisis in Sudan

Dire humanitarian conditions for people in Sudan and those fleeing the conflict

People fleeing the conflict in Khartoum travel through roadblocks and checkpoints where authorities harass and threaten them

‘Countries should not deny access to those fleeing a conflict based on a lack of identification documents or visas’ - Tigere Chagutah

Countries bordering Sudan must immediately lift entry restrictions for individuals fleeing the conflict and ensure access to protection and safety for over half a million people who have already fled Sudan, Amnesty International said today (6 July).

During the evacuation at Port Sudan in April, countries that evacuated their nationals denied evacuation to Sudanese people without visas putting some of them at risk of being returned to the conflict in Sudan.

Amnesty interviewed 29 civilians between 9 May and 16 June who faced the difficult choice between whether to return to the conflict they fled or remain stranded at the border where they may wait for an indefinite period without basic supplies to maintain their health, privacy, and dignity. Witnesses and humanitarian workers were also interviewed, as well as analysing documents, videos, photos, and reports in the region to further verify details.

People interviewed were in Wadi Halfa near the border with Egypt and Port Sudan on the Red Sea, as well as those who had crossed the Sudanese border at different locations and were either in or planning to travel through locations including Addis Ababa, Cairo, and Dubai, as well as Juba and Renk in South Sudan, and N'Djamena in Chad.

Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa, said:

“Allowing swift passage across borders for all people fleeing the conflict and providing immediate access to asylum registration would ease the dire humanitarian situation along the borders.

“Countries should not deny access to those fleeing a conflict based on a lack of identification documents or visas. Yet, the stringent entry regulations on those without valid travel documents or visas have created insurmountable barriers for individuals in desperate need of safety leaving them at serious risk.

“Countless individuals who have successfully crossed borders continue to face uncertainty and vulnerability. They encounter difficulties in accessing asylum and/or maintaining their status due to their inability to renew expiring or expired identification documents.

“We are calling on countries neighbouring Sudan to uphold their obligations under international human rights law and refugee law by opening their borders to those fleeing this escalating conflict.”

Harassed and threatened when leaving Sudan

People fleeing the conflict in Khartoum and across the country have had to travel through several roadblocks and checkpoints where authorities harassed and threatened them, limiting their ability to exit Sudan easily.

Amnesty received reports highlighting the significant rise in the cost of trips from Khartoum to the border, limiting opportunities for those trying to flee the violence.

Three interviewees said they were questioned by the Sudanese military as they tried to leave making it difficult to leave with ease and causing exit delays at border.

One person fleeing Sudan told Amnesty:

“Immigration officials at Gadarif [near the border with Ethiopia] said I needed to be interviewed by a military intelligence officer. He interviewed me for two hours asking why I was leaving, what I used to do in Khartoum and whether I was willing to join the army. I said I wanted to cross to Ethiopia and seek safety. I was allowed to go through the border.”

Ali*, a 26-year-old man, was forced to call a witness to confirm his identity when he was vetted by a Sudanese security officer and was required to pay to get security clearance to cross into Ethiopia at the Gallabat crossing. He paid about 2000 Sudanese Pounds (equivalent to £3) for a service that was previously free.

Dire humanitarian situation

According to the information collected, hundreds of people waiting along border crossing points in Qustul and Argeen near Wadi Halfa overwhelmed the facilities available at the border and adjacent towns.

Osman*, a 30-year-old man, said those stranded at the Wadi Halfa border were forced to spend the night outside without proper shelter, water, or food. The lack of basic facilities, such as bathrooms and clean water, created an unhygienic environment, posing many risks, particularly to older people and children. While Osman acknowledged the presence of the Red Cross at the Egyptian side of the border, he noted the absence of medical assistance on the Sudanese side.

Aamira*, a 30-year-old woman, told Amnesty that her family had slept outside of the bus for eight hours while they waited to be let through the border checks. She said:

"We arrived at night. And when we arrived there, the Egyptian border was closed. We had to sleep outside. My family members were stuck at the Argeen border for over three days without being processed. There was no medical assistance. No water for bathroom.”

Egyptian authorities imposed extra restrictions

Egypt has received the highest influx of people fleeing the conflict in Sudan, with over 250,000 Sudanese nationals having entered Egypt as of 26 June, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

According to the information collected by Amnesty, as of 10 June the Egyptian authorities required all Sudanese nationals to obtain an entry visa issued by the Egyptian consular office in Wadi Halfa or in Port Sudan, citing the need to counter the forgery of visas and to better manage the influx of Sudanese nationals into Egypt.

Until then, and in accordance with regulations pre-dating the conflict, entry visas were required for Sudanese boys over the age of 16 and men under the age of 50. At the start of the crisis, the Egyptian immigration authorities also accepted temporary travel documents at land crossings from Sudan into Egypt for women, girls, boys under the age of 16, and men over the age of 50.

However, the Egyptian authorities discontinued the practice without warning on 25 May leading to further chaos, severe delays and overcrowding at border crossings. Egyptian authorities also reversed earlier practices of allowing entry to Sudanese nationals with expired passports, the validity of which had been extended for six months and of allowing children to be added to their parents’ passports. 

Under another decision dated 29 May and reviewed by Amnesty, Egyptian authorities introduced the additional requirement of security clearance for boys and men aged between 16 and 50 entering Egypt through the Cairo International Airport. The policy specifies that the number of the security clearance must be printed and dated on the entry visa in order for the individual to be allowed into Egypt.

Amnesty also received alarming reports of authorities in Egypt denying entry at land borders to some Syrian and Eritrean nationals fleeing Sudan. A witness told Amnesty that in late April individuals had been denied entry at the Argeen Egyptian border because they were holding expired documents resulting in a family being separated.

Egyptian media reported on 7 June that the authorities are seeking to expedite the adoption of a new asylum law. While the draft law has yet to be made public, reports indicate that under the proposal, all asylum-seekers and refugees in the country would be required to register with the authorities and regularise their status within six months of the law’s executive regulations coming into force.

Satellite images acquired by Amnesty of Argeen border between 6 and 23 June shows a significant increase the number of vehicles on the Sudan side of the border.

Lack of support from the international community

Local organisations are providing support to Sudanese individuals fleeing, particularly along the Sudan-South Sudan border and the Sudan-Chad border regions. The current lack of support by the international community exacerbates the already fragile situation stretching the limited resources available in the local communities across the borders.

In Chad, humanitarian organisations are providing water, food, health support and shelter to the population of more than 120,000 Sudanese who crossed over since the beginning of the conflict. South Sudan has also recently received 129,000 people from Sudan. As of 27 June, only 13% of the £4.2 million requested for the Sudan regional refugee response by the UN Refugee Agency has been funded.

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