Days after armed fighting broke out in Sudan, Dalia Mohamed and her mother faced an impossible choice: flee the capital, Khartoum, or stay.
With their home in the middle of a civil war, the sounds of bullets, missiles, and bombing soon become too much.
They packed some essentials on Thursday and fled after their home was damaged in a missile attack.
“I was trying to put off the idea of leaving Khartoum,” Mohammed, 37, told Al Jazeera. “You always hear these stories of people needing to leave their homes, but it doesn’t shock you until you have to do it yourself.”
Khartoum has historically been a haven for people fleeing civil wars in the far fringes of Sudan, such as Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and South Sudan, before the latter became its own country in 2011.
For decades, civilian elites and the military have militarized extractor resources from the periphery such as oil and then gold to enrich themselves, while saving just enough to pacify the population in Khartoum.
But now the capital is the epicenter of armed conflict between the army and a violent paramilitary force known as the Rapid Support Forces. Both have set up checkpoints and clashed indiscriminately, resulting in a high death toll and severe shortages of food, electricity and water.
The horrific conditions led to a mass exodus and transformation of Khartoum – a bustling city of five million that now feels like a ghost town.
“It was the hardest decision I have ever had to make,” Mohammed said. “Even now, if someone tells me my area is safe and we can go back…we’ll be back in a second. But we can’t.”
Those fleeing Khartoum are heading east to Port Sudan, which is a relatively safe area with sea routes linking Djibouti and Egypt.
Others drive north to Egypt, though only children, the elderly, and women can enter the country without visas. Young Sudanese between the ages of 16 and 49 must apply for visas one day in advance at the Egyptian consulate in Wadi Halfa, a city close to the border with Egypt.
It’s a demand that risks temporarily separating families, as many prepare to say goodbye to their sons, brothers, and fathers in the hope that they will soon be reunited.
Nor are the roads into Egypt entirely safe after reports of RSF fighters stealing and looting cars at gunpoint, several people who made the trip told Al Jazeera.
The conflicting security situation has made coordinating an escape a nightmare.
Shaima Ahmed is in London and is trying to convince her parents and siblings to leave Khartoum. The 27-year-old said it was difficult to advise her family from the outside.
The inability to give [my family] Reliable information is stressful. I push them to go [to Egypt] But I don’t want to push them too far. “If something happens to them, it will be my fault,” Ahmed said.
Raja Makkawi, a British-Sudanese national who was visiting her family in Khartoum when the war broke out, added that the logistics are not easy.
With bus stations broken, and small vehicles not equipped for the trip, she said families need to try to find buses on their own, as well as drivers who know how to avoid RSF checkpoints.
“An hour ago, the big bus from Khartoum to Cairo cost $10,000,” Makkawi told Al Jazeera the night before she left for Egypt. [A bus] It was only $4,000 a few days ago. But anyone can charge whatever they want and people will pay in order to… save their lives.”
The war in Khartoum is also driving families apart, with some choosing to stay behind while their loved ones leave.
Dania Al-Atabani, 23, said her parents, aunt and cousins left the city, but she decided to stay and take care of her grandparents and help her wherever she could.
She said she could now hardly recognize her city, which was once the source of so many memories and the pulse of a national pro-democracy movement.
“Khartoum has changed from a city where we clean [people’s] Tear gas canister wounds so far [people] CPR and try to stop them from bleeding [to death]Atabani said.
“I miss being a normal 23-year-old with dreams and not running [away] From tanks, while in constant need to save people’s lives.
Others, like 26-year-old Samar Hamza, are still hesitant about whether to leave or stay. Clashes keep escalating in her area, making it risky to get out of the house.
But even if it became safe to escape, she said leaving her home — and the city — would be the hardest choice she would ever have to make.
“I really don’t want to leave my house,” she told Al Jazeera, holding back tears over the phone. “I was hoping that a [war] It will never happen in Sudan. I was hoping that a [war] It will never happen in Khartoum.”
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