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‘No one seemed to care about us’: Canadians trying to leave Sudan describe chaotic evacuation operation

Evacuation flights to bring Canadians home from Sudan have ended, Canada’s defence minister confirmed on Sunday, as some Canadians who were able to escape the violence described chaotic scenes and significant challenges communicating with the government. 

Roughly 400 Canadians removed over last 2 weeks, defence minister says, as hundreds more struggle to flee.

Canada halts airlifts from Sudan

Canada has suspended its evacuation operation at a Khartoum airfield after a ceasefire unravelled and violence escalated, but Canadians are still stranded in Sudan and escape options are limited.

Evacuation flights to bring Canadians home from Sudan have ended, Canada’s defence minister confirmed on Sunday, as some Canadians who were able to escape the violence described chaotic scenes and significant challenges communicating with the government.

As fighting grips the North African country, roughly 400 Canadians and permanent residents have been evacuated from Sudan in the past two weeks with the help of the Canadian military, Defence Minister Anita Anand said on Sunday, following the departure of the last flight out of the capital Khartoum on Saturday.

Another 230 Canadians are still in the country and seeking assistance through Global Affairs out of about 1,800 Canadians who had notified the department they were in the country.

Azza Ahmed was among the Sudanese Canadians who made it home. She had been visiting relatives in Sudan and said Canada’s evacuation efforts were weak and disorganized compared to other nations.

“The Kuwaitis, the Indians, the French and South Korea — they were able to get their citizens out safely so many days before the Canadian Embassy even contacted us,” Ahmed told CBC News. “I was surprised that we were one of the last countries to be evacuated. [Canada] was able to get their diplomats out within days. But no one seemed to care about us.”

Canadian woman describes escape from Sudan

Azza Ahmed recounts the stress of making her way out of Sudan’s capital Khartoum via a German military flight.

Civil strife erupted in Sudan more than two weeks ago in widespread fighting between the military and a powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

More than 500 civilians have been killed in the conflict, dashing hopes of Sudan transitioning to democracy in the near future.

‘A little more organization would have been helpful’

Ahmed had planned on visiting family in Khartoum until May 8. But the visit was cut short when violence erupted, prompting Ahmed and her family to register their presence in the country with Global Affairs Canada.

She said she received a call from Canadian officials at 1 a.m. last Monday informing her a German-run flight could accommodate her and her Canadian relatives in nine hours if they could make it to Khartoum’s airport, 25 kilometres away.

People walk toward a plane.

After siphoning all of her family’s gas into a single car, Ahmed said what should have been a half-hour drive to the airport took two hours.

Despite driving through Khartoum’s back roads, her cousins’ car was nonetheless stopped by members of the Rapid Support Forces. Ahmed’s cousins were let go after getting out of their car, emptying their pockets and explaining all their passengers were women trying to get to safety.

Once at the airport, Ahmed and 40 other Sudanese Canadians departed Sudan for Jordan before being flown to Germany. There, Ahmed and her family booked a commercial flight home to Toronto, where they arrived on Wednesday. Ahmed’s cousins had no choice but to stay behind.

Another Canadian, Razan Hassan, was on vacation and staying with family in Omdurman before she left Sudan via a Norwegian aid flight, she told CBC News on Sunday.

“I think a little more organization would have been helpful,” she said of Canadian evacuation efforts. “I don’t want to say I was a little bit let down, but I was at the mercy of someone else’s aid,” she said from the Qatari capital of Doha. “It wasn’t a good time.”

Canadian who escaped Sudan says she was ‘at the mercy of someone else’s aid’

Razan Hassan was able to escape the ongoing violence in Sudan thanks to a Norwegian flight to Qatar. Hassan, who was in Omdurman on vacation, said she wished there was more organization and communication on Canada’s part to help her and others hoping to flee.

On Sunday, the two rival factions battling for control of the country accused each other of fresh violations of a ceasefire agreement.

Another Sudanese Canadian, filmmaker Mohamed Elfatih Hassan, said the Canadian government was no help as he began a “miserable” and “terrifying” journey to leave the country by land on April 15 to escape fighting in the streets. He said he and his diabetic mother travelled for six days to reach Cairo, a trip that should only take a day and a half.

Their first stop was Omdurman, just north of Khartoum, where they constantly heard gunfire and explosions.

Chaos in Sudan hinders Canadian evacuations

Signs of a ceasefire in Sudan are scarce as the two warring factions have returned to fighting that has temporarily derailed rescue attempts for Canadians still trapped in the country.

He said he reached out to Global Affairs on April 16 through the Canadian Embassy in Khartoum, and the person who answered simply told them to “stay safe” and fill out a form, and the Canadian government “had no plans to evacuate Canadian citizens in Sudan and it’s not likely they will evacuate anybody.”

Hassan told CBC News on Sunday that he felt abandoned and wants an apology and an explanation.

‘Our work is not done,’ says defence minister

The military is not planning additional flights out of Khartoum due to the”volatile and dangerous conditions on the ground,” Anand said. “Canadian Armed Forces personnel are clear of the airfield also.”

There was significant gunfire “in the area” of one Canadian flight which departed Saturday, Gen. Wayne Eyre, chief of the defence staff, said Sunday, adding the shots were not directed at the Canadian aircraft.

The U.K. has also ceased evacuation flights from the Wadi Sayyidna airfield (WSA), and the Embassy of the United States in Khartoum has issued a security alert recommending civilians avoid the airport, Global Affairs said in a statement on Sunday.

Breaking down the Sudan conflict and who’s fuelling the fight

Sudan’s capital has turned into a war zone as two rival factions battle for control, but other countries are also playing a role. McGill Associate Professor Khalid Medani and War Child Canada President Samantha Nutt break down how outside forces are also helping fuel the fight.

Canada facilitated six evacuation flights between April 27 and 29, Global Affairs added.

In all, Canadian military aircraft have transported about 550 individuals out of Sudan from the Wadi Seidna airfield near Khartoum, Anand said Sunday.

Canadian officials are joining a U.S.-led relocation to Port Sudan, where commercial and other evacuation options exist, Anand said.

Two navy vessels bound for the Indo-Pacific region have been redirected to remain near Port Sudan in case they can be of future use in getting Canadians home, she added.

Smoke rises from a stack atop a large multi-storey ship packed with people, under a pale blue sky.

“Our work is not done and the government of Canada is working with allies to find other possible ways for these citizens to depart Sudan by land.”

Joly to meet with evacuees

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly is in Kenya for the next few days to help inform Ottawa’s response to the crisis in Sudan.

She is set to meet with people evacuated from the country, including diplomatic staff. Joly will also meet with humanitarian groups to get a sense of the needs of people in Sudan.

She plans to meet with former Sudanese prime minister Abdalla Hamdok, the country’s only civilian leader in recent decades, who was deposed in a 2021 coup.

Sudanese diaspora rallying on WhatsApp to help those still in country

Sara Elnaiem, a Sudanese Canadian family physician in Milton, Ont., discusses the support networks that members of the global diaspora have used to help people still in Sudan escape the ongoing violence.

In a related development, Sudanese nationals can extend their stay in Canada as of Sunday as violence escalates in their home country.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser announced Saturday morning that effective April 30, Sudanese nationals in Canada can apply to stay longer or change their status as a visitor, student or temporary worker for free.

The minister says this includes free open work permits so people can support themselves while in Canada.

With files from The Canadian Press, The Associated Press and Reuters

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