Hundreds of Nigerians fleeing the fighting in Sudan have been evacuated and brought back to the West African nation after days of delays that left many of them stranded in the desert and at the Egyptian border.
More than 370 Nigerians, many of them students, arrived in the capital city of Abuja late on Wednesday from Egypt at midnight aboard military and local planes.
More than 2,000 remain either in Egypt or in Sudan and would be evacuated in the coming days, according to Sadiya Umar Farouq, the country’s Minister for Humanitarian Affairs.
Both the Nigerian military and a local airline had their aircraft at the Aswan Airport in Egypt since Sunday, but the evacuation was delayed because of logistics and documentation challenges at the border, all of which were resolved on Wednesday, authorities said.
“They have gone through a very traumatising period but we are glad … no life was lost,” said Farouq, who received those who returned alongside other government officials at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
The returnees arrived looking fatigued, and some with only one backpack, which they said contained their most precious belongings.
They were documented before receiving food and $216 for transportation back home. At the entrance of the airport, their family members wrapped them in hugs as their worries quickly turned to smiles and laughter.
The returnees spoke of being stranded for days in the desert and at the Egyptian border after authorities denied them entry for lack of proper documentation.
“In the desert, there was no place to sleep in the extreme cold and for you to eat, food was expensive,” said Yahaya Sadiq, one of the returnees.
Some others went without food on some days after they ran out of cash and supplies as they escaped gunshots and bombardments.
“I was eating only once a day and it was my friend that was giving me food,” said 19-year-old Shehu Hifzullah, who was studying medicine at Sudan’s Bayan University.