Egypt deports more Sudanese, as bureaucracy makes asylum ‘nearly impossible’

Sudanese crowding in front of the Egyptian consulate in Wadi Halfa, waiting to obtain a visa, on May 18, 2023 (File photo: RD correspondent)

Authorities in Aswan, Egypt, have deported hundreds of Sudanese people on Wednesday, sending them back to the Argeen border crossing with Sudan. Entering Egypt legally has proven to be marred by several bureaucratic challenges, seen by some as a deliberate attempt to limit the influx of Sudanese refugees into Egypt.

According to deportees who spoke to Radio Dabanga and other sources, Aswan authorities turned back more than 16 buses carrying Sudanese people en route to Cairo. “Each bus carried an average of 60 passengers, including children, women, and the elderly.”

The deportees reported facing harsh humanitarian conditions during the journey, with high temperatures and insufficient food and drink exacerbating their suffering. “Many among the deportees had chronic diseases or had recently undergone surgeries,” stated a person who chose to remain anonymous for security reasons.

The reasons for the deportations are not yet known, as attempts to contact the Egyptian authorities in Aswan were unsuccessful. Sources suggested that the deportations might have been due to illegal entry into Egypt.

Around 500,000 people have fled Sudan to Egypt since the onset of war between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in mid-April 2023, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). By April 27 of last year, more than 20 buses were arriving at the Argeen border crossing daily, a number that soon doubled.

Last April, Radio Dabanga reported that thousands of Sudanese refugees who escaped to Egypt have been detained by Egyptian authorities in a network of secret military bases and then deported back to their war-torn country, often without the chance to claim asylum.

Radio Dabanga reported last week that hospitals in Aswan received dozens of bodies of Sudanese people who died en route to the southern Egyptian city, many from scorching heat. 

‘Abuse of power’

Radio Dabanga spoke with Ashraf Roxy, a lawyer and human rights defender, about the situation of Sudanese refugees in Egypt. He explained that the number of Sudanese people registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as asylum seekers and refugees “increased six-fold in the period between April 15, 2023 and May 31, 2024.

“Unofficial estimates indicate that 600,000 Sudanese have entered Egypt, with 205,000 of them entering illegally.” Roxy described the deportation measures reportedly taken by Egyptian authorities as an
“abuse of power”.

“Although any country has the right to deport individuals who entered its territory illegally, even if this conflicts with the principle of ‘non-refoulement’ in international law, which is meant to protect those fleeing for their lives, seeking asylum is also a legal right.”

He criticised the deportation of Sudanese who failed to register with the UNHCR. “If individuals cross the border irregularly and then surrender themselves to the authorities, they should not be penalised or deported, as they are exercising their right to seek asylum.”

Bureaucratic challenges

While registration with the UNHCR theoretically prevents deportation, the long waiting periods, sometimes exceeding five months, complicate this. Additionally, obtaining proof of registration from the UNHCR, such as a document or a mobile phone message, can be delayed.

Roxy explained that the UNHCR “works throughout the week to register these large numbers, but the influx has caused significant delays”. Despite the UNHCR reallocating staff to register incoming asylum seekers, those who arrived in late 2023 are still waiting for their appointments, according to the lawyer.

Another issue is the distance between Aswan and Cairo, where the UNHCR headquarters is located. This distance, about 960 kilometres, creates difficulties for Sudanese arriving in Aswan, as they may be stopped and asked for entry visas before reaching Cairo. “Without protection from the UNHCR, they are vulnerable to arbitrary deportation by Egyptian authorities,” Roxy added.

Radio Dabanga also spoke to several Sudanese who recently entered Egypt without prior entry visas. Their identities are withheld for their safety. They reported that obtaining entry visas in a regular manner is nearly impossible, with waiting periods extending up to five months. The Egyptian consular authorities often refuse to grant visas to all family members, forcing those without visas to find alternative means to join their families.

Obtaining security approval for entry into Egypt is financially burdensome for many Sudanese. “There is an obligation to use EgyptAir to reach Egypt via Cairo Airport, which is unsuitable for those arriving by land”, an anonymous source told Radio Dabanga.

Sudanese nationals are allegedly exposed to blackmail by employees in the relevant government agencies, according to testimonies obtained by Radio Dabanga. “This situation has opened the door to brokers and the necessity of paying bribes to complete procedures.”

While Sudanese women, children, and elderly initially did not require a visa to enter Egypt, men aged 16 to 50 did*. This changed in June 2023 when Cairo required entry visas for all Sudanese nationals. Many opted for smugglers’ routes to enter Egypt, leading to several deaths due to the lack of medical care.

Reports indicate that the trade in forged Egyptian visas has flourished at the Argeen border crossing. 

Accusations of corrupt practices have also emerged concerning UNHCR procedures. “Brokers facilitate and expedite registration processes for a fee, which many war-affected expatriates cannot afford.”

Additionally, the UNHCR’s insistence on having only one registration office in Cairo, with no outlet in Aswan, is perceived by some as collusion with Egyptian authorities’ restrictive measures.

* In 2004, Egypt and Sudan signed the Four Freedoms Convention, allowing free movement of citizens between both “brotherly countries”, as well as working and owning property with no special permit. Soon however, it became clear that Sudanese men between 18 and 50 years old still needed a visa to be able to enter Sudan. In 2018, the authorities in Cairo officially requested a restriction on the entry of Sudanese to Egypt. On June 10 last year, after more than 200,000 Sudanese had sought refuge in Egypt from the war, Cairo decided to oblige all Sudanese to obtain an entry visa.