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Hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees face an uncertain future in Egypt

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The United Nations says more than 450,000 people have fled Sudan over the almost two months of war there, with nearly half escaping north to Egypt. NPR's Aya Batrawy visited Egypt last month and reports on the challenges they face.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TITANIC")

IMAN AL SHARIF: (Singing in non-English language).

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: The Nile River's dark waters ripple under the small motorboat with big speakers blasting Sudanese music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TITANIC")

AL SHARIF: (Singing in non-English language).

BATRAWY: Nubian tribes and family links with Sudan in the southern stretch of Egypt around the city of Aswan flow across the border like the Nile. And now Aswan has become a key stop for Sudanese fleeing the war back home.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: A family of six in Aswan is getting into an Egyptian minibus after getting off a bus from Sudan. Kamal Mohammed Hassan tells me he's from the city of Omdurman, where fighting between Sudan's military and militia forces has been fierce. The family's next and final stop is Cairo.

KAMAL MOHAMMED HASSAN: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: I ask him how he'll get by in Cairo. Hassan tells me he has a daughter living in Seattle, Wash., that will send him money to pay for a rented apartment in the city.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: And this is the reality that Sudanese are facing here. Egypt doesn't provide shelters or camps. They have to find their own way in this country of more than 100 million people that's in the midst of its own economic crisis. On a recent visit to Egypt, the head of the U.N. refugee agency, Filippo Grandi, asked if Sudanese can get the same kind of international support that Ukrainians fleeing Russia's invasion received.

FILIPPO GRANDI: The local communities in this part of Egypt have gone out of their way to try to help the people who have crossed the border, the refugees from Sudan. But they cannot shoulder this burden alone.

BATRAWY: But Grandi said not even 10% of the U.N.'s $3 billion funding appeal for Sudan had been met. Egyptian volunteers, local charities and the Sudanese diaspora are trying to help. Another complication, though, is that Egypt has visa restrictions on some Sudanese males, and that means families have been separated at the border. But even before the war, Egypt was home to more than 4 million Sudanese migrants.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTSTEPS)

BATRAWY: In Cairo, I meet Yasser Abuelgasim. He apologizes for the state of the building he's living in. The stairs are unfinished, and there are no railings or wall.

YASSER ABUELGASIM: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: (Non-English language spoken).

What matters is that he's safe and has a roof over his head, I say.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: Inside the apartment, the TV's turned on to the news. Images of smoke rising from the fighting in Khartoum beams into his living room in Cairo.

ABUELGASIM: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: Abuelgasim fled Khartoum with his wife and newborn baby son. He's angry at what they've had to endure. He wants a civilian government, not the army or the militias fighting for power.

ABUELGASIM: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: He tells me he's cried a lot, every day, and asked in anguish why he was being treated better and welcomed in Egypt more than he was in his own country.

ABUELGASIM: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: Abuelgasim says he worked hard for years to save up enough to finally start a family of his own at the age of 50.

ABUELGASIM: (Through interpreter) I am absolutely exhausted from just the basics of trying to live and to get to where I can build a family. And the sad part is, when I got to this point - I have a baby. This war starts. I've got no hope now - nothing.

BATRAWY: His wife, Sheza Breima, was a U.N. worker in Sudan, actually working on trauma counseling for others. Now she wonders how her own family will get by. Her baby's needs are growing by the day.

SHEZA BREIMA: You have commitments. You have babies. He has needs. Yes, we are believing in God and everything is going to be OK. But everything is scary.

BATRAWY: I check in with her again in the weeks that follow. The family is safe and managing, but she's still anxious and uncertain about the future.

Aya Batrawy, NPR News, Egypt. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Aya Batrawy
Aya Batraway is an NPR International Correspondent based in Dubai. She joined in 2022 from the Associated Press, where she was an editor and reporter for over 11 years.
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