On April 15, fighting broke out in the Sudanese capital between Army troops and members of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (FAR), beginning a conflict that has already caused more than 700 deaths and 5,000 injuries, and more than a million internally displaced persons and refugees. Foreign embassies, including the Spanish one, did not take long to evacuate their staff and nationals, but they did not take the documents of the Sudanese who had applied for a visa and even destroyed them in accordance with security protocols.
This is the case of the United States, which, a week after the outbreak of violence, abandoned the diplomatic headquarters and destroyed documents containing sensitive information, including the passports of many Sudanese, who are now trapped in the country at war. Others have been luckier, such as Maher Elfiel, who had left her document at the Spanish Embassy some 20 days before the diplomatic staff and Spanish citizens residing in Sudan They were evacuated in an Air Force plane.
The young Sudanese told elDiario.es that when the armed clashes began, he did not think it was the beginning of a war. He didn’t worry about his passport until the news of the preparations for the evacuations of foreigners broke; he then tried to contact the Spanish Embassy by phone and email without success. Other people who were in the same situation did get an unsatisfactory response: they were told that the legation was closed and they could not get their passports back, and to request new ones from the local authorities, engaged in a bloody struggle for power. “Can you believe it? We thought it was an irresponsible response,” says Elfiel from a town on the Sudanese border with Egypt, where more than 113,000 Sudanese have fled from mid-April to mid-May.RELATED
“The Embassy had been looted”
Many Khartoum residents have left the city, where violence is concentrated, which has also affected foreign embassies, like that of Qatar, assaulted and looted. According to Elfiel and another Sudanese citizen, they also broke into the Spanish legation. “We found out through social networks that they had entered the Embassy and found our passports. I got in touch with a guy (a Sudanese, who was not wearing a uniform and apparently not affiliated with either of the two sides in the conflict) who agreed to return my passport for a small amount of money (about 28 euros) ”, details the young man. . “I am very happy to have my passport back,” he says, although his plans to travel to Spain in July for a vacation have changed. He feels doubly blessed because he has got his passport back and he has an Egyptian visa valid until August: now he just needs to find a bus ticket to get to Egypt.
Sources from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs cannot confirm that the Spanish Embassy in Khartoum has been assaulted and the documents stolen, since there are no diplomatic personnel left on the ground who can verify it. The sources add that the email of the Embassy in Sudan is still operational and, through this channel, “all the necessary help is being offered to the Sudanese whose passports were left inside” the legation in Khartoum. “Certificates accrediting the pending visa applications are being issued to all those who are applying for it,” the sources told elDiario.es, who cannot reveal the number of applications that were being processed in Khartoum.
“I fully understand that there are things that are not in the hands of the Spanish authorities, but they did not respond to my requests for information, they did not bother to pay me any kind of attention,” denounces Elfiel. “What has disappointed me is that the Spanish authorities did not prioritize the security of Sudanese citizens, like that of the Spanish, and in fact they deprived us of a basic right, which is the right to movement,” since without a passport he and others were stuck in Khartoum. The young man adds that, after this bad experience, he is not going to trust any embassy again. “I don’t know if I’m going to apply for another visa, I’m going to keep my passport in my pocket 24 hours a day,” he says nervously between laughs.
Another Sudanese citizen, Ashraf Malik, was also able to recover his passport from among those abandoned at the Spanish Embassy, corroborating the version offered by Elfiel. “Someone posted on Facebook (the most popular social network in Sudan) that the Embassy had been ransacked and the doors were open, and that the passports were lying there,” he told elDiario.es. His passport was returned to him by the same person, but Malik does not want to reveal how much he paid for it. He feels lucky because his document was among the 400 that ended up in the hands of that person, according to what he himself told him, but “some passports were not found and were lost.”
blocked and desperate
Not everyone has had the same luck: other Sudanese are desperate because they do not have in their hands the passports that would allow them to leave the country and get to safety, and they do not know when they will be able to do so. The entire family of Abdelazim Abdelgadir has been stranded in Sudan, after US Embassy staff shredded his passports, before leaving the diplomatic headquarters aboard helicopters. Many documents were destroyed, including passports of Sudanese employees of the Embassy itself who were going to travel to the US or who preferred to keep them in that safe place rather than in their homes, as reported by the New York Times.
“Our passports are not sensitive or intelligence documents, there is no reason to destroy them, it is not logical,” laments Abdelgadir from the US, where he has worked as an engineer in a real estate company for six years. His wife and his four children had applied for a “family reunification visa” in March, he explained to elDiario.es, and they were finishing the procedures in April. “The process had started about 25 days before when the clashes broke out, my children were doing the medical tests and vaccinations that they were asked for at the Embassy,” he says.
“My eldest son (19 years old) called and was told that our visas were not urgent, the urgent thing was to evacuate American citizens and personnel,” the man says indignantly. He himself contacted the Embassy, sent several emails, and with the State Department in Washington, but has only received “empty and meaningless responses” via email. He admits that this situation is “very frustrating” because the only solution they have been offered is to travel to Egypt and continue the process at the diplomatic legation in Cairo. “At the border you can get a document to cross but my son can’t,” because men between the ages of 16 and 49 need an Egyptian visa, adds the desperate father, stating that he will continue to fight until the US gives his family an alternative .
In a similar situation is Alhaj Sharaf, a 25-year-old Sudanese student who was waiting for a visa to study a master’s degree in Computer Science in the US. “I had to pick up my visa on the 16th and the US Embassy closed on the 15th” because of heavy fighting. “They informed me of the closure, but for a week and a half I did not get any response” about the whereabouts of the passport. Nearly a month later, on May 17, he received an automated email response: “It is standard procedure in a takedown operation not to leave behind any documents, materials or information that could fall into the wrong hands and be misused.” “Our embassy in Khartoum held passports of Sudanese and third-country citizens who were processing their visa applications, and US citizens who applied for consular services. Because the security conditions did not allow these passports to be returned safely, we followed our procedure to destroy them, rather than leave them behind without security,” reads the text, which has been seen by elDiario.es.
Now, “all my thoughts are focused on finding solutions and a plan B,” says the student, who was unable to start his master’s degree at the beginning of May but the University will allow him to do so in August, as long as he obtains a new passport. If he finally manages to leave Sudan, he will first have to accompany his father – “who is old and cannot move” – to Dubai or Doha, on the Persian Gulf, where other members of his family reside. For both Sharaf and the Abdelgadir family, having the financial means and the possibility of fleeing the war is not everything, because without a document they cannot go to a safe country.