B.C. couple safe in Egypt after fleeing Sudanese conflict

Hassan and Josette El-Ashi, pictured dancing in their son's home in New Westminster, B.C., fled Sudan after violence erupted in the capital of Khartoum in April 2023. (Reda El-Ashi - image credit)
Hassan and Josette El-Ashi, pictured dancing in their son's home in New Westminster, B.C., fled Sudan after violence erupted in the capital of Khartoum in April 2023. (Reda El-Ashi - image credit)

Ramadan had just ended when Hassan El Ashi realized it was time to run.

Hassan and his wife Josette split their time between Khartoum — the capital city of Sudan — and New Westminster, British Columbia. In Sudan, hundreds of people have been killed and thousands injured since the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces started to engage in intense fighting on April 15.

Many Canadians found themselves trapped in Khartoum, which has become the heart of the conflict zone, The El Ashi's were among them, waiting their turn on a long list of people hoping to be evacuated by the French consulate.

About a week after the fighting broke out, on Eid-al-Fitr, the Muslim religious holiday marking the end of Ramadan, Hassan went to visit friends who had a generator so he could charge his phone.

"I found them packing, and they were going to leave ... we had about five to six days without electricity, and it was very, very bad. We decided to join them," said Hassan, recounting his story on The Early Edition.

And so the perilous journey began.

Exodus to Egypt

The El Ashi's left their house, knowing looters could soon strip it, packed the essentials in a shared suitcase, and rented a bus with their friends that took them first to the neighbouring city of Omdurman.

The next day, they began a nine-hour drive to the Egyptian border, passing through multiple paramilitary checkpoints.

"It was almost 45 C, and the bus had no air conditioning and sandstorms on the way," said Hassan. "We had to wait at the checkpoint for six to seven hours to clear our passport and check our luggage which was nothing much. We had about 50 buses in front of us and another 10 or 15 behind."

After crossing the border, it took another seven hours for the couple to clear customs. They made it to Alexandria following an arduous trip and are planning to return to B.C. in mid-May.

Submitted by Reda El-Ashi
Submitted by Reda El-Ashi

Back home in New Westminster, Reda El Ashi, the couple's adult son, has been anxiously awaiting reunification with his parents. He said he is incredibly relieved they decided to run rather than wait.

He said the situation at the border between Sudan and Egypt is only getting worse.

"There's exorbitant fees being asked for people to cross maybe 40, 50, 60 thousand dollars. My parents were lucky to cross when they did because every day after that, it just became worse both financially and materially," said Reda, who grew up in Sudan.

"I just hope that our house will still stand when we eventually revisit," he added.

The Sudanese conflict explained

Tensions had been building for months between Sudan's army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces  — which together toppled the civilian government in an October 2021 coup — before fighting erupted in Khartoum in April.

The friction was brought to a head by an internationally-backed plan to launch a new transition involving civilian parties after the 2021 coup. A final deal was due to be signed in early April, on the fourth anniversary of the overthrow of long-ruling autocrat Omar al-Bashir in a popular uprising.

Both sides have blamed the other for provoking the violence.

Sudan's warring military factions agreed in principle on Tuesday to a seven-day ceasefire, but previous agreements have been violated, so whether this one will hold remains to be seen.

The United Nations is warning of a humanitarian crisis and says that as many as 800,000 people will flee the region.

"The scale of exodus is enormous, and many countries around are going to feel it, especially Egypt and Ethiopia," said Reda.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly confirmed Tuesday that Canadian soldiers are in Port Sudan to help any Canadians who make it to the city escape by ship.

"We have armed forces in Port Sudan as we speak," Joly told CBC News during an interview in Nairobi, Kenya. "Our goal is to make sure we can offer options to Canadians."

More than 200 Canadian citizens who asked for assistance getting out of Sudan did not make it out before an airlift ended over the weekend.