Sudanese dual nationals who returned home uprooted by conflict

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By Webdesk

Three years ago, Aamira Elamin, 40, of Washington, DC, left her home for more than 15 years, taking all her belongings to return to Sudan.

She came to the North African country with a renewed sense of hope following the 2019 uprising that toppled President Omar al-Bashir after nearly three decades in power.

Elamin, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, is a doctor by profession and wanted to give back to her country, where she received publicly funded education.

But those hopes were frayed when a 2021 coup derailed Sudan’s fragile transition to democracy, and those hopes have now completely evaporated since the country entered open war on April 15 between the army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitaries. ended up.

Elamin, a dual citizen of Sudan and the United States, was forced to flee the fighting. She said she feels betrayed both by the warring generals’ promises of a civilian government and by the US government’s evacuation efforts.

“I came to Khartoum three years ago with a container shipped across the ocean with everything I had in Washington, and I left Sudan [with just a few bags] now,” Elamin told Al Jazeera through tears from the Egyptian city of Aswan. Thousands of Sudanese have fled by road to the neighboring country to the north.

The decision to leave was not an easy one for Elamin, who was born and raised in Khartoum.

Elamin spent most of her life until she was 25 under al-Bashir’s rule, and despite the instability at the time, she said it was “more manageable” than recent fighting, which killed nearly 460 people and injured thousands .

“These were like real killings and bombings and gunfire and shelling in the streets of Khartoum,” she said of the current violence.

“We have never experienced anything like it,” she said, describing the capital as one that had long been a safe haven for refugees and displaced persons from neighboring countries.

Lack of aid to US embassy ‘frustrating’

When warplanes flew over her home in Khartoum, she knew it was time to leave.

Elamin hoped the US embassy would assist her in the evacuation, but instead she only received automated responses from them. It was “frustrating,” she says.

The automated message Elamin received from the US Embassy in Sudan
An automated message Elamin received from the US Embassy in Sudan [Courtesy of Aamira Elamin/Al Jazeera]

The US has evacuated its diplomats from the country and had initially said it had no plans to evacuate US citizens due to conditions on the ground. Sudan is home to more than 15,000 US citizens, most of whom are believed to hold dual citizenship.

On Monday, however, the White House said it was assisting stranded Americans from a distance, helping them join convoys of foreigners trying to cross the Sudanese border.

A number of other countries such as China, France and Saudi Arabia have been evacuating their nationals over the past week.

Elamin said logistical complications in conducting evacuations are understandable because of the fighting, but the US has the experience of evacuating people from larger war zones like Afghanistan in August 2021.

In the end, Elamin arranged her own evacuation, traveling by bus to Egypt with her children on Sunday in what was an unusually long but otherwise smooth 48-hour journey to reach Aswan.

Elamin was the first of her family to flee, leaving relatives behind, including her sisters, aunts, uncles and all their children, many of whom do not hold dual citizenship and do not hold valid passports.

Paperwork problems

Lubna, 38, who asked not to share her surname, is another Sudanese woman with a foreign nationality and family still in Sudan.

The housewife moved to Khartoum from the United Arab Emirates in 2018, but was born and raised in Ireland by parents who are also Irish citizens.

Two days before the conflict broke out, she had taken her mother to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital, for a minor medical procedure, leaving behind her husband, Mohamed, and two sons, ages 6 and 9.

Lubna has since tried to get in touch with several Irish embassies to help her family leave Sudan.

She was sent information about two European airlifts evacuating EU citizens – one Italian, one Dutch.

However, her husband and children are not themselves Irish citizens and could only be evacuated if they had legal proof that they were Lubna’s family.

A screenshot of a message Lubna received from the Irish Foreign Office
A screenshot of a message Lubna received from the Irish Foreign Office [Courtesy of Lubna/Al Jazeera]

But the family has been unable to obtain any such papers or their belongings due to a raid on their home which they believe was carried out by the RSF.

“Who’s going to think about papers and IDs when the RSF guns are hanging over your head?” Lubna told Al Jazeera.

The fighters forced her husband and children to leave their home and forbade them to take any belongings with them.

By sheer luck, the family’s passports were left in their car. It is now what they use to make their own journey out of Sudan. The three plan to use a bus to reach Egypt and soon reunite with Lubna and her mother, who will be traveling from Saudi Arabia to Cairo this week.

Lubna admits she’s luckier than most. Her husband is “well-to-do” – and ran an import-export business selling gum arabic. However, the conflict has completely uprooted her life.

She said the future she was creating for her family vanished in a split second, leaving them unsure of where to go and what to do next.

She does not want to start over in Egypt, fearing any xenophobic reaction to the influx of Sudanese entering the country.

She has not lived in Ireland for many years, having met her husband in the UAE, where she also had her children. With few ties left in the European country, a return there would also be difficult, she said.

“Why does the international community allow wars?” Lubna asked. ‘You’ve seen Ukraine. You have seen Syria. You’ve seen all these things happen.”

A ‘right’ to be evacuated

Abdel, who also asked that his last name not be shared for security reasons, is wondering the same thing.

“[The conflict is] the worst thing that has happened in Sudan’s history,” he said. “I don’t care how it gets resolved. I just want it to stop.”

Abdel, also a dual citizen of Sudan and the US, is among those outside the capital relatively safe from the conflict.

He is currently in Madani, a town 160 km southeast of Khartoum, where residents of the capital have taken refuge. The influx of people is causing gas and housing shortages, even though people can still live their normal lives, Abdel said.

Despite this, he is concerned about the spread of the conflict to other cities.

Abdel expects the US embassy to come to his aid if the conflict forces him to leave Madani, home to nearly 400,000 people. In anticipation of any unrest, he has reported to the American embassy in Sudan.

“I believe the US government has an obligation to evacuate civilians,” he told Al Jazeera. “This is my right to be evacuated from a war zone by my country.”

A safe route for everyone

Like many Sudanese struggling with their sudden, changed reality, the three dual citizens hope that the international community will keep an eye on the situation in Sudan.

The rush of foreigners to flee the country has also increased fears among some Sudanese about what will happen now that many diplomats who could have acted as potential mediators have left.

Elamin is concerned about people who may be left behind in the conflict simply because of the passport they may or may not have.

There should be a “safety route,” she said, based on humanitarian need, rather than who is a national of which country.

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