Among the Lucky Ones - Sudanese Migrants Evacuated to Khartoum

They sat in Damascus airport’s “old” terminal in sombre clumps of fives and tens, clutching small suitcases that contained the remnants of their lives in Lebanon. For most, the journey to the crowded departure lounge involved a combination of desperate driving in rented vehicles they could ill-afford, long walks around destroyed bridges, overnight stays on congested border crossings, and days spent in a temporary housing facility in Syria.

Yet the 266 Sudanese nationals IOM evacuated from Syria in the middle of the night early this week are amongst the lucky ones. Waiting to take a charter flight back to their home country, they are safe at last. Over 2,000 of their compatriots and tens of thousands of other migrants stranded either in Lebanon or Syria have no such comfort.

“We left because they bombed our apartment building in Beirut,” says Amina Taher, a Sudanese woman who lived in Lebanon for five years with her husband. “It was chaos everywhere. We hired a van with other Sudanese people and just tried to make it to the border with Syria as fast as we could.”

Amina and her family, including a one-year old infant, spent a day and night at the Al-Arida border crossing to Syria. “There were thousands of people at the border, and they would not let us through right away,” recounted Amina. “We had nowhere to sleep. We ended up sleeping on the ground near the van,” she added, abstractedly stroking the plastic bag filled with baby supplies that is one of her only pieces of luggage.

Once across the border in Syria, the Sudanese were transported by the Syrian government to temporary accommodation in the town of Homs. In a university dormitory currently housing approximately 850 evacuees, food and medical treatment were provided by the Syrian government and the Syrian Arabian Red Crescent.

“At the borders we had no food or drink or anything else,” said Manahar Hussein, a mother of two. “Once we got to the centr though, we were really taken care of. They did not stint.”

From the housing facility, IOM coordinated with Syrian government authorities and the Sudanese embassy to get the evacuees home, first chartering buses to make the three-hour journey from Hams to Damascus, and then a Sudanese airplane to take them to Khartoum.

“There are challenges every minute with this sort of work,” points out Munzer Alnemr, the IOM team leader responsible for the movement of the Sudanese evacuees. “Everyone is in a rush. Some people lost their travel documents when they fled Lebanon and resources are limited. It is difficult to even find buses because so many people are on the move.”

According to the United Nations, 150,000 people – 20,000 of them third country nationals – have already fled across the border to Syria, and the numbers are projected to double in the upcoming week.

Perhaps the real tragedy though is that even for those that receive help, it may not be enough. “I feel hopeless,” said Ahmed Abdulmonem, a Sudanese labourer who used to work in Choueifeit. “There are no jobs or opportunities in Sudan for us right now.” Shrugging his shoulders, he says: “I left Lebanon with nothing, and now I go back to nothing.”