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Palestinian Students and Professionals in Sudan Forced to Return Home

Palestinian evacuees from war-torn Sudan are welcomed upon arrival to the Gaza Strip through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, on April 28, 2023.
Yousef Dawas
27 Jul

At the beginning of 2023, more than 2,000 Palestinians were living in Sudan—mostly students who had left behind the violence and insecurity in Gaza to pursue their passion for learning and dreams of a better future.

Little did they know that they’d left one conflict only to find another. In April, armed fighting between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) erupted in the streets of Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, marking the start of civil war.

One Palestinian student—Alaa Al-Ghalban, a 23-year-old aspiring doctor—had paid out of pocket for her travel to Sudan and tuition to begin a new life as a student. But months before graduating from medical school, she was forced to return to Gaza and face an uncertain future.

Alaa Al-Ghalban

On April 15, Alaa and her friends were sitting together in a rented apartment close to their university in Khartoum, "When all of sudden we heard gunfire and bombs going off. We immediately turned on the news to find out what was happening," Alaa told Palestine Deep Dive.

The outbreak of violence was happening in the same neighbourhood where Alaa was living. During five days of civil war, Alaa and her friends were trapped in Khartoum with an unstable internet connection, no electricity, no water, and limited food as the markets were closed.

"We had little drinking water, everyone was too frightened to go out alone," Alaa said.

Alaa and her friends decided to escape to Al Jazirahera—a neighbouring state—after they heard calls on social media to evacuate dangerous areas in Khartoum.

"On the first day of Eid al-Fitr, we moved by car from place to place, depending on what we heard online" Alaa recounted.

The Palestinian Embassy in Khartoum informed Palestinians in Sudan that their evacuation would not be easy due to the intensity of the war. But with their help, Alaa was able to return to Gaza after enduring three grueling days of travel.

"Our journey to the Arqeen crossing in Egypt was extremely difficult. We just had some biscuits and chips to satisfy our hunger," Alaa remembered.

When Alaa finally arrived in Gaza, she found another war waiting for her. "I expected war in Gaza because I grew up there and I know the situation is tense. But what made it less catastrophic was that my family was around me."

Alaa’s future still hangs in the air. She doesn’t know if she can continue her studies or if she’ll be unable to recover her university records and have to start over.

"My identification papers and passport are still in my handbag in my apartment in Khartoum" she explained.“I was due to finish my studies in October and graduate.”

The only thing Alaa wants is for everything to return to normal, for her studies to be completed, and to become a doctor. She wants to serve her country.

Alaa Al-Ghalban

Opportunity Interrupted

Students weren’t the only Palestinians caught up in the Sudanese conflict. On March 8 2023, Heba traveled from Gaza to Sudan to live with her new husband Yasser, who had been working for the past five years as a manager at a hospital in Khartoum.

Disrupting the peaceful atmosphere that had prevailed for her first month in Sudan, Heba found herself witnessing scenes of gunfire and fighting

"What made it worse was that every hotel and market was destroyed or closed. At least in the war in Gaza, you can find places to buy food and water," Heba commented.

Heba and Yasser couldn’t wait for the Palestinian Embassy to evacuate, so they managed to travel to Egypt on their own with some Jordanian nationals.

They left everything behind. Their house, their money, their car—and fled with nothing but their clothes and a little money in their backpacks.

Each traveler had to pay $250 for the journey to Egypt, a significant amount considering Yasser’s salary, which he was now leaving behind.

"On our way to the Arqeen crossing, we ran out of water, so we had to borrow water from others," Heba explained.

Yasser and Heba are now residing in Cairo, waiting for the situation in Sudan to improve.

"We could go back to Gaza together, but the unemployment is too high there. So maybe we will split up, I can go back to Gaza and my husband goes to another country seeking a job."

The conflicts in Gaza and Sudan have left Palestinians like Alaa and Heba facing deep uncertainty. Their dreams have been derailed, their futures lost between two conflicts in two different countries. They are hoping to find peace and stability so they can live the lives they’ve dreamed of, but they’ve both learned that nothing is guaranteed.

Yousef Dawas
Writer with We Are Not Numbers

Yousef grew up in North Gaza, and studied psychology at Al-Azhar University. He is a writer at We Are Not Numbers and interested in economics and politics. He is a talented photographer and strives to capture images from unusual and interesting angles. He enjoys a wide selection of sports and music.