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Desperate Sudanese face endless wait for passports so they can flee the war
17/09/2023 21:06 in World News

Marwa Omar was one of hundreds of people who lined up early in the morning to apply for a passport in Port Sudan. Fifteen hours later, she still had nothing to show for it.


 According to the United Nations, one million people have crossed the Sudanese border since April, fleeing a brutal war between the Sudanese army and rapid support from paramilitaries.


 This number would likely be higher if not for the fact that many people, like Omar, needed their passports renewed or issued by offices that were closed when the first shots were announced on April 15 .


 Since  authorities opened a new passport office in the eastern city of Port Sudan in late August, hundreds of people have been waiting in line all day, every day.  They are desperate to obtain documents that will allow them to ignore the deadly war in Sudan.


 When asked where she planned to go, Omar replied:

"Anywhere but here. This is not a country anymore."


 During five months of war,  violence has killed 7,500 people, displaced more than 5 million and eroded Sudan's already weak infrastructure, leaving millions in a state of urgent need.


 “There's nothing left. We cannot live, we cannot raise our children, we cannot educate our children," said the mother of four children. Like Omar, many have flocked to the coastal town, which has so far escaped the fighting and is now home to government officials, the United Nations and Sudan's only functioning airport.


 “I was in Atbara for two months, but when I found out they were about to re-issue my passport, I went to Port Sudan,” Salwa Omar said.


 But the days passed and only a lucky few made it into the building to submit paperwork, while others, like her, waited their turn outside.


 said Marwa Omar, frustrated by the long wait and poor organization. “If you know someone inside who will do it quickly, come. If not, don't bother."


 - 'It's all wrong' -


 Those lucky enough to get inside the building have to enter "a cramped room, terrible heat and no chairs", another applicant, Shehab Mohammed, told AFP.


 "You have elderly people leaning on their canes for hours or sitting on the floor. It's all wrong."


 Over the noise of dozens of people trying to push their paperwork through, Fares Mohammed, who came to get a passport for his child, said:

"At this rate, we'll be here for months."


 "It's so crowded it's hard to breathe. Imagine what these children and old people are feeling," he said.


 But still, they show up every day, determined to leave Sudan at any cost.  More than 2.8 million people have fled  Khartoum, Sudan's capital, where the pre-war population was about 5 million.


 Some left immediately for safer locations, but others spent months sheltering in their homes, rationing electricity and water  while praying that the missiles were farther away than they appeared. . .


 Sudan was  one of the  poorest countries in the world even before the war broke out but is now in a terrible humanitarian crisis.


 According to the United Nations, more than half of the country is in urgent need of humanitarian aid and 6 million people are on the brink of famine.


 Those who have managed to save enough money  to get to Port Sudan face skyrocketing costs of accommodation and food. And now they have to increase passport fees:

120,000 Sudanese pounds ($200),  the average monthly salary before the war.


 Nour Hassan, a mother of two, is willing to pay any price to get a passport for her children. Every day she waits from 5 a.m.:

00:00 to 9:00:

30 o'clock, holding the family's  paperwork.


She explained to AFP that the goal was to reach Cairo, the Egyptian capital, where she has family.


 “Leaving was a terrible choice, but living here has become impossible,” she said.


 Like many of the more than 310,000 people who have  crossed Sudan's northern border into Egypt, Hassan insists this is only a "temporary solution."


 They will only stay  until it is safe enough to go home.

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