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People are fleeing Sudan's conflict for an uncertain future as refugees

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Over just the past three weeks, nearly a hundred thousand Sudanese people have fled the fighting in their country. They've crossed land borders into neighboring African countries like Egypt, which has received by far the biggest number of Sudanese. And that's where NPR's Aya Batrawy is. She joins us now from the Egyptian city of Aswan, close to Sudan's border. Hi, Aya.

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: Hi, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So you've been all around this story, and I mean that literally. You've been in Sudan, where you saw the evacuation of thousands of foreigners, including Americans, also Saudi Arabia just across the Red Sea, now Egypt. Tell us what it's like there.

BATRAWY: Yeah, so unlike the evacuees from Sudan who carry foreign passports and have the support of their countries ready to welcome them when they get off these ships from Sudan to Saudi Arabia and are ready to go back home, the people coming to Egypt from Sudan are largely left on their own. And that journey starts in Sudan as they try to make their way into Egypt. It costs thousands of dollars to get buses to try and get to the border. And when they get to the border, there are very few facilities available to these families - not even enough bathrooms, medical facilities, places to sleep. And then when they get to Egypt, they face a whole new set of challenges because the country simply isn't prepared to deal with this influx of Sudanese. So far, already more than 50,000 Sudanese have come here just since mid-April, and Egypt is grappling with its own economic crisis. The food inflation here is very high, and the currency has lost half its value in just the last year. So you already have 4 million Sudanese living in Egypt. And only a fraction of those are officially registered as U.N. refugees. So the most of the Sudanese that are coming here are actually coming here on tourist visas that will probably just continuously be extended.

RASCOE: So how are these tens of thousands of Sudanese coping when they get to Egypt?

BATRAWY: So I met a Sudanese woman just before coming to Aswan who had arrived to Egypt about a week after the fighting broke out in Sudan. Sheza Breima told me she had to sell some of her gold to make the week-long journey across the border into Egypt, sleeping outside next to buses and on the side of the road. And she had to do all of that with a 2-week-old baby as she tried to recover from labor. Her baby didn't even have a passport yet, but Egyptian border guards did let the family through. And I met her in a rented apartment in Cairo that she's sharing with some other Sudanese evacuees, and here's what she said.

SHEZA BREIMA: We don't know for how many days - months are we going to survive. And also, we have the cash problems. And the baby need is increasing then, so - because I have stock of, I mean, Pampers and diapers, and now all they run. This is what I could bring it from home.

BATRAWY: So Sheza Breima had been working with the U.N. in Sudan before this with refugees on trauma counseling, and now she's telling me she has to use that trauma counseling on herself and her family because she never thought she'd be in this position. But there's also schools in Egypt and here in Aswan that have turned into shelters for Sudanese, but this isn't a government initiative. This is just people - citizens - private citizens, whether they're Sudanese or Egyptian, just offering space and support to Sudanese who are now here.

RASCOE: So what's Egypt saying about how long it will keep its borders open like this, given, you know, like you said, it's reeling from its own economic crisis and struggling to feed millions of poor Egyptians?

BATRAWY: So Egypt's president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has described the Sudanese citizens that are in Egypt as guests and not refugees, but the reality is Cairo is probably going to seek international aid and support to continue doing this because it faces billions of dollars in unpaid loans and debt overseas. So this could be an opportunity for Cairo to get more financial support, but Egypt is also deeply concerned about the situation across its border in Sudan. And Egypt wants to see a friendly government in power, and that's the military that's now fighting the paramilitary forces.

RASCOE: With neighboring countries affected like this, what can you tell us about international efforts to try and bring this conflict to an end?

BATRAWY: So this weekend, we have seen the first real attempt at getting the warring sides to talk, and this is a U.S.-Saudi-backed effort that started in Saudi Arabia yesterday. But to give you an idea of just how far off the two sides are from any cease-fire, Washington and Riyadh have described these as pre-negotiation talks, and the Sudanese factions that are meeting in Saudi Arabia said they're only going to discuss a humanitarian truce, several of which have already been broken in past weeks, and not ready to negotiate an end to the war.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Aya Batrawy in Aswan. Aya, thank you so much.

BATRAWY: Thank you, Ayesha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
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.