Sudan’s bordering countries must immediately lift entry restrictions for individuals fleeing the conflict in the country and ensure access to protection and safety for about half a million people who have already fled, Amnesty International said today.
Between 9 May and 16 June, Amnesty International interviewed 29 civilians faced with the difficult choice of 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.
The interviewees included people in Wadi Halfa, near the border with Egypt, and Port Sudan, a port on the Red Sea, as well as those who had crossed Sudanese border points at different locations and were either in or planning to travel through locations including Addis Abba in Ethiopia, Juba and Renk in South Sudan, Cairo in Egypt, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and N’Djamena in Chad.
“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,” said Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s regional director for East and Southern Africa
Omar*, a 35-year-old man who has been in Port Sudan since end of April could not be allowed to leave for lack of passport, Omar told Amnesty International that he had applied for a Schengen visa and his passport was with the embassy in Khartoum when the war started.
“States 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.”
The situation for people fleeing Sudan is further exacerbated by the denial of entry for some asylum seekers, putting them at risk of return to the dangers they were trying to escape.
During the evacuation at Port Sudan in April 2023, countries that responded to evacuate their nationals denied evacuation to those Sudanese without visas.
Amnesty International also interviewed witnesses and humanitarian workers, as well as analysed documents, videos, photos, and reports from media outlets and NGOs in the region to further verify details.
‘Security vetting’ by Sudanese authorities
Those fleeing 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 easily exit Sudan with ease.
Amnesty International received reports pointing at significant increase 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 interviewee told Amnesty International: “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 US$4) for a service that was previously free.
According to the information collected, the 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 International that her family had slept outside 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 the bathroom.”
Egyptian authorities imposed additional 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 International, as of 10 June 2023, 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 2023, 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 2023 and reviewed by Amnesty International, 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 has to be printed and dated on the entry visa in order for the individual to be allowed into Egypt.
Amnesty International 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 International 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 regularize their status within six months of the law’s executive regulations coming into force.
Satellite images acquired by Amnesty International of Argeen border between 6 June and 23 June shows a significant increase the number of vehicles on the Sudan side of the border.
Argin Border, Sudan and Egypt: Satellite imagery from June shows the Argin border area in northern Sudan on the Egypt border. Between 6 and 24 June the border area on the Sudan side appears to have an increase in vehicles – highlighted with the yellow box.
Regional refugee response
Local and locally led organizations 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 organizations 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 US$566.4 million requested for the Sudan regional refugee response by the UN Refugee Agency has been funded.
“Amnesty International calls 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,” said Tigere Chagutah.
“All countries must lift restrictions impeding the prompt, safe and dignified entry of all individuals fleeing Sudan without discrimination, ensuring that all asylum seekers have unrestricted access to fair and effective asylum procedures and humanitarian assistance.
“Egyptian authorities should also ensure that the new proposed legislation and regulations governing asylum in the country are fully compliant with international human rights and refugee law and standards.”
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are currently more than 563,000 individuals who have crossed the borders, seeking safety and protection from the ongoing crisis in Sudan. Humanitarian groups responding to the Sudan situation inside and outside the country have reported the dire humanitarian situation, highlighting the urgent need for immediate assistance and support.