May 1, 2023 By David Fraser, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — Canada is relocating its efforts to get stranded Canadians out of Sudan from the capital to a distant port city as violence continues to escalate between the country’s army and a powerful paramilitary group.
Defence Minister Anita Anand says about 550 people left Sudan on six military-run flights from the country’s main airport in Khartoum between Thursday and Saturday. Between its own flights and help from international partners, about 400 Canadians and permanent residents have now been evacuated.
But deteriorating safety conditions in the Sudanese capital made it necessary to suspend future flights as of Saturday night, and Anand says evacuation efforts will now be based out of the city of Port Sudan about 800 kilometres away.
“Despite the fact that a ceasefire agreement is in place between the two warring factions, fighting continues in Sudan, and in close proximity to the airfield, the situation remains volatile, dangerous and unpredictable,” said Anand. “We remain committed to supporting the mission to aid Canadian citizens in their time of need and continue to plan with our partners for both air transport as well as ground and seaport extraction options.”
Canada’s Chief of the Defence Staff, Gen. Wayne Eyre, says pilots saw violence on the ground in Khartoum on Saturday as they conducted two flights carrying 205 passengers, including 60 Canadians.
“There was fighting around the airport as our aircraft were approaching,” he said. “In fact, our pilots on night vision goggles were able to see small arms exchanges as they approached.”
Anand said Canadian officials are joining an American-led relocation to Port Sudan, where she says there are commercial and other options for leaving the country. Canada has two ships on the Red Sea capable of supporting operations in Port Sudan, she added.
“Canada and our allies are continually assessing how we can assist our citizens in leaving Sudan from various locations,” she said.
Eyre said Port Sudan is still a “permissive environment” for continuing evacuations out of the country, including by air.
Sudan’s capital of Khartoum, a city of some five million people, has been transformed into a front line in the grinding conflict between Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, the commander of Sudan’s military, and Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who leads the powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces. Fighting between the two forces began on April 15. The two weeks of bloodshed between the two sides has dashed once-euphoric hopes of Sudan’s transition to a democracy.
Global Affairs Canada is offering available seats on the U.S. convoy from Khartoum to Port Sudan to those who can make the trip. Those who stay have been advised to shelter in place.
“Evacuation by road from Khartoum is a 30-hour journey with many risks along the way and not everyone is able to do that,” said Sebastien Beaulieu, an official at Global Affairs Canada. He said people must make the decision to leave or shelter in place “based on their own circumstances, their ability to travel, their mobility, and their assessment of the risks.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly is in Kenya helping inform Canada’s response to the crisis in Sudan. She is set to meet with people evacuated from the East African country, including diplomatic staff. Joly will also meet with humanitarian groups to get a sense of the needs of people in Sudan, as well as those who have fled to neighbouring countries.
On Sunday, Joly met with Djibouti’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mahmoud Ali Youssouf and thanked him for that country’s support during Canada’s evacuation efforts.
Anand said that work will be one of the most important aspects of the trip because Joly will meet with people “who are more familiar with the intense fighting and history that has been occurring.”
Canada suspended its consular services in the country on April 23, saying a rapidly deteriorating situation had made it impossible to safeguard the safety and security of its staff in Khartoum.