On the morning of April 19, Noon Abdel Bassit and her family boarded a bus in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. It was the start of a 48-hour journey to safety in Egypt. The 21-year-old medical student spoke to Al Jazeera about why her family decided to flee and why they were unable to cross the border safely. Her account has been edited for length and clarity.
No one knew that this war was about to start. The conflict started suddenly. Even that day, when we woke up, my siblings had left for college and my mom was getting dressed for work.
Then, all of a sudden, people started calling and saying there was a shooting and that the country was not safe and that no one should leave.
By the night of the first day, they were bombing and using fighter jets – it was really scary at that time.
We were all indoors and every hour we could hear gunshots, bombs and missiles being fired all over the city. Our house shakes, so it’s hard for us to try and live a normal life.
We can’t leave. We can’t go anywhere. We tried to stock up on food and water but all supermarkets and shops are closed.
On the fourth day, we woke up to find that missiles had hit our house. All our doors and windows were smashed. Our house was badly damaged.
That’s when we thought, well, whatever happened, we didn’t deserve to die for it. So that’s when we decided we had to evacuate.
ready to leave
We didn’t really have much of a choice to leave. It either drove all the way to the Egyptian border, or sought refuge in a village or city outside Khartoum.
My mom predicted that this unrest would spread to the outer cities, so the safe bet was we went to Egypt.
We started doing our research. At the time, we didn’t know anyone who left. Every time we mentioned it to anyone or asked anyone if they would come with us, they thought we were crazy.
In the end, there really wasn’t much to arrange.
We hopped on a bus on the fifth day of the conflict, didn’t think about the consequences or what might happen – and left.
Egyptian Border Tour
We barely packed anything. Everyone brought only their mobile phone, laptop, a little money and a few clothes.
We drove to Soba, which is currently a relatively safe neighborhood in Khartoum.
That’s where the bus driver picked us up. We took a bus that travels regularly to Egypt and rented one for our relatives and family friends for 50 people.
We rented our bus for 2 million Sudanese pounds, which equates to 50,000 Sudanese pounds per person, which is just under $100. But now, those prices have risen dramatically. People pay up to $40 million per bus and they can’t even find a bus.
On the way, we were stopped at three checkpoints, once by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and then twice by the Sudanese Army.
They all went very well because by the time we left, a ceasefire was in progress. They just asked us where we were from and where we were going. When they realized we were a family and had kids and elderly with us, they let us go.
We left Khartoum at 10am and reached the border at 2am. When we actually entered Egypt, it was already around 6 am.
One border, different visa rules
All Sudanese women, children and senior citizens over the age of 50 can enter Egypt visa-free. Only males between the ages of 16 and 49 need to obtain a visa before entering Egypt.
So unfortunately we had to stay with my brother and my two uncles who are now trying to get visas.
The Sudanese city where the border lies is called Halfa. There is a consulate there that issues visas for those who are in transit. They were told it would open yesterday, but it still hasn’t opened.
They waited until this morning and it still didn’t open. Now word is that it won’t open at all because of the war, so now there are only hundreds of people on the border.
Sudanese men with other nationalities and general foreigners with American, British or any other European nationality can get a visa on arrival for $25.
Our team consisted of Americans, Swedes and Irish who were all able to obtain visas on arrival.
This is one of the other reasons we are so depressed. Why can foreign nationals get a visa on arrival, but Sudanese who are usually exempt from visas cannot get a visa on arrival and have to be deported?
So after we crossed the border, it was another four hours to the nearest city, Aswan. There we got off at the bus stop. We took a taxi to the train station and had to wait a few hours until the next train. Then, we took the 14 hour train to Cairo.
A member of my family rents an apartment in Cairo, so we all live here.
As of right now, we haven’t really thought about what to do next. We start by making sure my brother and uncle get here.
We only got in touch with them briefly because the internet service was really bad. As of today, we have not been able to get in touch with them at all.
Message to fellow Sudanese and the world
The number one tip I always tell everyone who wants to embark on the same journey is to not overthink it. I know it’s a scary trip, but trust your instincts and stick with it.
Pack light and make sure you have plenty of drinking water as the journey is really long and the desert is really hot and dry.
Bring snacks, a first aid kit, and women are sure to wear a scarf and dress appropriately.
At the same time, we appeal to the international community and governments to help Sudan. More news organizations need to listen to us and share our stories.
We also call on the Egyptian government to lift, at least temporarily, all visa requirements so that the people of Sudan can safely cross these borders.
The situation at the border is very, very, very chaotic right now. People with babies and the elderly were stuck there for 24 hours.
There are a lot of buses coming in, and the situation is not good.
We need help.