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Violence Shuts Sudan’s Universities Again; Countries Consider Evacuating Students

As violent clashes in Sudan between the army and a rival military group continued for a fourth day on Tuesday, Sudanese and international university students found themselves trapped in a life-threatening crisis amidst deteriorating public services and closed borders.

The fighting between the regular army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces broke out in Khartoum, the capital, on Saturday and quickly spread to other cities across the country.

CNN reported on Tuesday that at least 270 people had been killed and more than 2,600 injured. Those numbers came from World Health Organisation officials, who cited the Sudanese Ministry of Health’s Emergency Operations Center.

Some students were among those killed, though their nationalities were not known, according to students and scholars who spoke to Al-Fanar Media about the difficult situation they are facing.

Meanwhile, several Arab countries have started making contingency plans for evacuating their nationals once borders and the airport have reopened.

24,000 International Students

The Non-Sudanese Students Welfare Organisation, a nongovernmental group based in Khartoum, called on all students to “take caution and avoid roaming the downtown, especially at night, when looting and theft are frequent.”

It also advised students to carry “the necessary identification papers” to ensure their safety. 

In its statistics of international students in Sudan, the organisation said a week ago that over 24,000 male and female students from over 91 countries were studying in various Sudanese universities.

Egypt Considers Evacuations 

About 5,000 Egyptian students currently study in Khartoum, making up about half the Egyptian community there, according to Egypt’s Ministry of Emigration and Egyptian Expatriates’ Affairs.

In a statement posted on Facebook on Monday, the ministry said all alternatives were on the table, “including an urgent evacuation plan if necessary, based on the developments on the ground, and once the currently closed airports and land borders open again.”

In preparation for such an eventuality, the ministry has set up an online form to register Egyptian students in Sudan. So far, about 3,000 students have registered their data online, said Suha El-Gendy, the minister of emigration and expatriates’ affairs.

She added that fewer than 5,000 Egyptian students may actually be in Sudan now, as many had left the country before the recent fighting broke out to spend the Ramadan holidays with their families.

In a video conference on Monday with about 100 Egyptian students in Sudan and a number of parents, El-Gendy said that “so far, we have not confirmed any death or injury of any Egyptian student during the events taking place in Sudan.”

She announced that the Egyptian Embassy in Sudan had set up two emergency lines, 00249129506391 and 00249912746818.

El-Gendy said officials were also studying students’ options for completing their studies back in Egypt, taking into account mechanisms that were followed when dealing with Egyptian students returning from Ukraine and Russia after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine last year. Those students sat for preliminary exams to enroll in the same specialisation in Egypt’s private universities.

Other Arab nations are also closely monitoring conditions in Sudan and taking steps to ensure their citizens’ safety.

Kuwait’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Sunday that it was in contact with the relevant authorities in Sudan to study all possible alternatives to ensure the safety of Kuwaiti citizens there, including their evacuation whenever security conditions permit.

Morocco’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also announced that it had established a phone number that Moroccans in Sudan could use to communicate with their embassy in Khartoum. The ministry urged Moroccans in Khartoum to stay in their homes and adhere to the directives issued by Sudanese authorities.

Students Confront Panic and Fear

While such official statements sought to reassure students and their families, the living conditions of students have been deteriorating since the outbreak of the clashes, adding to the repeated disruptions of education at Sudanese universities over the past four and a half years.

Universities are still recovering from a succession of shutdowns dating back to December 2018 revolution that toppled former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, followed by the Covid-19 pandemic and climate emergencies in 2020, and protests in the wake of a coup attempt in the fall of 2021.

Mohamed Hassan, a professor in the Faculty of Science and Technology at Al-Neelain University, in Khartoum, told Al-Fanar Media that this confusing situation had “affected the universities’ plans, disrupted education, and prolonged students’ education plans before graduation.”

Manal Amer, the head of the Professor’s Syndicate at the University of Khartoum, said she expected the situation to get “more complicated” in the coming days. She told Al-Fanar Media that she had got stuck inside her daughters’ school when she rushed to bring them home after the clashes broke out. She said she was able to get out with the help of the school’s neighbours, who hosted the stranded parents in their homes.

May Abd El-Salam Mahmoud, a third-year medical student at the International University of Africa, in Khartoum, said she could not leave her home with her friends to buy the needs of the Ramadan evening meal. This left students in “panic and fear,” she said.

“University classes had stopped since the beginning of Ramadan, but students preferred to stay and study in order to obtain a better grade at the end of the year,” said Mahmoud. “The situation is very bad,” she added. “We depend on our Sudanese neighbors to buy our basic needs. Constant power outages affect my chances of communication with my colleagues, family, and the Egyptian Embassy in Khartoum.”

Abdul-Mageed Khater, a fourth-year medical student at Garden City University in Khartoum, said armed clashes had occurred very close to his dormitory.

“We felt fighting taking place in the vicinity of our homes, and power has been cut off from most student homes since Saturday morning,” said Khater, who heads the Union of Egyptian Students in Sudan. “We have heard that some students were injured or killed in those events, but we still do not know their exact nationalities.”

Khater said the lack of communication was making the situation worse. While talking to Al-Fanar Media, he said that his mobile phone and laptop’s batteries were about to die, with no power to recharge. “Many students have lost the ability to communicate with their families due to the power outage,” he said. “Students are afraid of losing connection with their colleagues and the Egyptian Embassy.”

Clashes as an Opportunity for Research 

Mohammed Adam, a researcher at the Department of Economic and Social Research at Sudan’s Ministry of Higher Education, expects that the continuing military clashes will further complicate conditions for university students in Sudan, impeding their education.

Amidst the current fighting, “civil state agencies have stopped, as well as university education for an indefinite period, or till the situation calms down,” Adam told Al-Fanar Media. “The clashes will hamper some ongoing research projects and studies nationwide. However, there will be space for researchers interested in Sudanese state and society issues to study this situation, as it will be a fertile environment to explore the factors behind the outbreak of these events.”

The Health System May Collapse

As the clashes continue, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said on Tuesday it was nearly impossible to provide humanitarian services around the capital and warned that the country’s health system was at risk of collapse.

“At the moment it is almost impossible to provide any humanitarian services in and around Khartoum,” Farid Aiywar, IFRC head of delegation for Sudan, told reporters via video link from Nairobi.

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