No Food, No Water: Palestinians of Sudan Speak of the War and the Journey Home

Palestinian student Mohammed Mousa returns to Gaza from Sudan. (Photo: Supplied)

By Lubna Abuhashem

Mohammed Mousa, 24, was playing cards with his friends when he heard the sounds of bombs at exactly 9:00 am, on Saturday, April 15. 

Mousa studies medicine in the Sudanese state of Gezira. But on that day he was in the capital, Khartoum, to celebrate the Muslim holy month of Ramadan with his friends.

Fighting between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) erupted in the streets of Sudan’s capital on that day. Hundreds have been killed and thousands wounded since then.

Sudan: My Second Home

Like many other Palestinians and internationals, Mousa was caught in the crossfire. “I did not expect the political conflict to turn into a civil war since the Sudanese people are peaceful and tolerant,” Mousa told The Palestine Chronicle.

“I have been living in Sudan for five years now, and I have never seen people fighting or getting violent.” 

For nine days, after the fighting broke out, Mousa remained in the ‘Palestinian Interior’, a special accommodation for Palestinians living in Khartoum which hosted approximately 40 Palestinian students.

On the second day of the fighting, the neighborhood’s electric converter was bombed so the electricity went off. On the third, the water was cut off, and the internet connection became unstable. 

After three days of fighting, grocery stores shut down, simply because they ran out of food. The only food left for the students was a limited amount of canned goods. “There were six of us and we ate two cans of beans in a day,” Mousa said.

As for drinking water, the students filled one or two buckets from a tap near the Palestinian Interior. Even then, that water source was not always available. 

The Palestinian Embassy In Khartoum informed the Palestinians in Sudan that their evacuation will not be easy due to the intensity of the war. 

When the first ceasefire went into effect, the Embassy arranged for their evacuation, at dawn, on April 25. 

Two days earlier, the students were already on the run, away from Khartoum, and then back to the city. On evacuation day, they slept in the Embassy. 

“We saw many dead bodies on the streets. They were covered with cardboard as no one could bury them,” Mohammed said.

The trip from Khartoum to the Arqeen Crossing, at the border with Egypt, took 22 hours. 

The students waited at the crossing from 2 am to 5:00 pm. There were hundreds of travelers from many nationalities. Some of them had already spent three days there.

After a long and arduous journey, Mohammed arrived in Gaza on April 28. “My heart is shattered for Sudan. I have lived there for five years. It is my second home,” he told us. 

Mohammed is a fourth-year student in medicine. He had only three semesters left before his graduation.

“My academic future is challenging. I already completed seven semesters, but if I decide to complete my studies in Gaza, only four or six semesters will be recognized by the university, as the academic system is different here,” Mohammed explained.

“If I complete my study in Egypt, I will have to cover all the expenses and lose the scholarship I had in Sudan.”

Mohammed keeps monitoring news from Sudan, and he regularly reaches out to his friends to check up on them. 

When Mohammed was still in Sudan, his father, Ghassan, appealed to the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to accelerate the evacuation of Gazan students.

“When he left the Gezira state at dawn, it was the most difficult time in my life,” Ghassan told The Palestine Chronicle. “The Internet was not stable and communicating was not easy. I thought something terrible had happened to my son,” he continued. 

“Thank God, my son is here with us, now.  I hope Palestinian officials can find a solution for these students’ academic future. My hope for him is to become a great doctor and serve his people.”

Uncertain Futures 

Alaa Al-Ghalban, 23, is also a medical student, completing her studies in Sudan. Alas, she too had returned to Gaza along with Mohammed and other students.

Alaa spent the first five days of the civil war in Khartoum before the evacuation.

“Our journey to the Arqeen crossing in Egypt was extremely difficult. We have very little to eat,” Alaa told The Palestine Chronicle.

Alaa studies medicine at her expense at the University of Garden City in Khartoum. 

She was scheduled to graduate next November but now, like many Palestinian students in Sudan, her academic future is uncertain. 

Following the 2019 revolt in Sudan, Palestinian students had already suffered the consequences of the soaring cost of living.

“Before the revolt, $200 was enough for a person to live a comfortable life there, but now we could hardly live at $400,” she complained. 

Without Water 

Heba and Yaser were not much luckier. Three months ago, they got married.

On March 8, Heba traveled to Sudan to be with her new husband, Yaser, who, for five years, has worked as a manager at a local hospital.

When the civil war started, Heba and Yaser managed to evacuate Khartoum with some other Jordanian nationals on April 23 at their expense since they could not wait for the Palestinian Embassy. Each traveler paid $250 for the journey.

They reached Egypt on April 26 at 10:00 pm and remained there.  

“We ran out of water on our way to the Arqeen crossing, so we had to borrow water from others,” Heba said. 

When they fled the country, they left everything behind, their house, money and car. All they managed to salvage were their backpacks with some clothes and a little money.

“We are now living in Cairo with the hope that things will change soon,” she said. 

“If the situation in Sudan gets worse, I am afraid we will have to part. We could go back to Gaza together but the unemployment is too high in the Strip,” she reflected with palpable sadness. 

“So maybe, I will have to go back to Gaza and my husband will travel to another country in search of work.”

Lubna Abuhashem is a freelance writer and translator from Gaza. We Are Not Numbers contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

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