Sudan evacuations speed up during fighting lull
European nations, China and others from around the world raced to extract thousands of their citizens from Khartoum on Monday during an apparent lull in fierce fighting between the army and a paramilitary force.
The sudden eruption of violence between the military and the well-armed Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group on April 15 has triggered a humanitarian crisis and killed 420 people.
Along with millions of Sudanese without access to basic services and trapped in their homes, thousands of foreign diplomats, aid workers, students and their families found themselves stuck in a war zone last week.
“Morgues are full, corpses litter the streets” and overwhelmed hospitals often have to stop operations for security reasons, said Dr Attiya Abdallah, head of the doctors’ union.
The United States and multiple European, Middle Eastern, African and Asian nations have launched emergency missions to bring to safety their embassy staff and Sudan-based citizens by road, air and sea.
Fighter jets have bombed the capital, the main airport has been at the centre of fighting and artillery barrages have made movement unsafe in and out of one of Africa’s largest cities. Diplomats have been targeted in attacks, and at least five aid workers killed.
Despite sustained pressure from countries concerned by the conflict’s wider repercussions as well as the safety of their nationals, the two sides have not abided by a temporary truce.
However, fighting calmed enough over the weekend for the United States to get embassy staff out by military helicopter, triggering a rush of evacuations by other countries.
At least two convoys involved in the evacuations came under attack, including one carrying Qatari embassy staff, and another carrying French citizens, one of whom was injured.
France and Germany on Monday said they had evacuated around 700 people, without giving a breakdown of their nationalities. A German air force plane carrying evacuees landed in Berlin early on Monday.
Several countries sent military planes from Djibouti to fly people out from the capital, while other operations took people by convoy to Port Sudan on the Red Sea, which is about 800 km by road from Khartoum. From there some have boarded ships to Saudi Arabia.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said more than 1,000 of the bloc’s citizens had been taken out during a “long and intense weekend” involving missions by France, Germany and other member nations.
Indonesia said so far more than 500 of its citizens had been evacuated to the port, and were awaiting transport to Jeddah, across the Red Sea.
China, Denmark, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Sweden also said they had got nationals out, while Japan said it was preparing to send an evacuation team from Djibouti.
A convoy of about 65 vehicles carrying some 700 international United Nations, NGO and embassy staff and their dependents drove from Khartoum to Port Sudan on Sunday as part of the evacuations, a diplomatic source said.
The evacuation of international staff from Darfur, the western region where fighting has also escalated, is also under way, with some heading to Chad and others to South Sudan, the source said.
427 Pakistanis reach Port Sudan
The Foreign Office (FO) said on Monday that it continued to follow the developments in Sudan and work with missions in the region to provide relief to Pakistanis in the country.
“427 Pakistanis reached Port Sudan safely and are being lodged before arrangements for their onward journey are coordinated,” the FO said.
According to a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was personally monitoring the emergency plan for the evacuation of Pakistani nationals.
The prime minister lauded the efforts of Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar, foreign ministry officials and Pakistan’s ambassador in Sudan.
He particularly appreciated the military authorities and other authorities concerned for their expertise and dutifulness in formulating an effective evacuation plan and its successful implementation.
He also expressed gratitude to Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Zaheer Ahmed Baber Sidhu and Inter-Services Intelligence (IS) chief Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum for their efforts regarding the evacuation process.
The prime minister thanked the leadership of Saudi Arabia, Turkiye and Egypt for extending their support for the evacuation of Pakistani nationals.
‘Weapons and narrow interests’
The fighting started on April 15 in the already poverty-stricken African nation with a history of military coups, sparking fears of a deeper descent into bloodshed and a wider humanitarian crisis.
Across the capital city of five million, roaming army and paramilitary troops have fought ferocious street battles, with the sky often blackened by fires in bombed buildings and looted shops.
Life in war-torn Khartoum is “burdened with anxiety and exhaustion,” said resident Tagreed Abdin, an architect.
“There was a rocket strike in our neighbourhood a few doors down from us … It is like nowhere is safe.”
The city has endured “more than a week of unspeakable destruction”, said Norway’s ambassador Endre Stiansen who was evacuated with his colleagues.
“It fills me with immense sadness that I had to leave so many Sudanese colleagues and friends behind,” he said on Twitter. “I fear for their future, because at present weapons and narrow interests carry more weight than values and words.”
Looking ahead at what fate awaits Sudan, already one of the world’s poorest nations, he said that “most scenarios appear bad”.
The fighting broke out on April 15 between forces loyal to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy turned rival Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who commands the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
The military toppled Bashir in April 2019 following mass citizen protests. The two generals seized power in a 2021 coup, but later fell out in a bitter power struggle, most recently centred on the planned integration of the RSF into the regular army.
Hospitals used as bases
As foreigners who can get out flee the country, the growing impact of the violence on Sudan’s already dire humanitarian situation worsens.
Five aid workers have been killed, said the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has been forced to suspend operations.
The healthcare system is close to collapse, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) verifying 11 attacks on hospitals and clinics, some of which have been overrun by the rival forces and used as military bases.
In Nyala, in South Darfur, a compound of aid agency Doctors Without Borders was stormed, its medical warehouse raided and vehicles stolen, the UN said.
“The remaining facilities in Khartoum and Darfur states are stretched beyond capacity and nearly non-functional due to staff fatigue and lack of supplies,” OCHA added in its latest update.
Also in Nyala, gunmen stormed a WFP compound seizing 10 vehicles and six food trucks.
“Warehouses in Nyala, South Darfur have been overrun and looted, with the loss of up to 4,000 metric tonnes of food”, OCHA said.
The WHO said it had readied additional emergency medical supplies “such as blood bags, trauma and emergency health kits to meet the urgent health needs” as other supplies have been “rapidly consumed due to the heavy trauma load. “
Additional input from APP