Canadian military unlikely to conduct airlifts out of Sudan past this week: officials
April 27, 2023 By Dylan Robertson and Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press
Ottawa is unlikely to evacuate citizens from Sudan after this week, officials say, though it is not clear when Canadian planes will actually start airlifting people to safety.
“While right now we have a window, it is really hard to plan much further out than this week at this point,” said Julie Sunday, the assistant deputy minister for emergency management at Global Affairs.
She said evacuations are only possible from the main airport in Khartoum. A UN convoy destined for the Port of Sudan earlier this week passed through 22 checkpoints over 850 kilometres, a slow and dangerous passage as fighting spreads across the country.
Canadian military and government officials who gave a technical briefing to reporters Wednesday say that a ceasefire is providing some stability, even if it’s not being fully respected, but there is no sign of it being extended beyond 72 hours.
About 200 members of the Canadian Armed Forces are deployed to the region along with military planes and ships.
But none of those assets have helped bring home roughly 180 Canadian citizens who left Sudan in recent days on the planes of other countries.
Vice-Admiral Bob Auchterlonie, commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command, said a planned evacuation flight had to be aborted on Wednesday because Sudan did not provide diplomatic clearance for it to land.
He said that is among several key conditions needed to be able to land such a flight in the volatile environment. Others include ensuring there is a safe area on the ground and co-ordinating time slots with allies.
Other countries’ flights were cancelled Wednesday because the main runway needed repairs.
More Canadian flights are planned for the coming days, Auchterlonie said, and the Armed Forces plans for each to carry about 100 people to safety.
“All of this is subject to change or be cancelled by the local or national authorities, as we’ve seen happen today and in the past few days,” he said.
Global Affairs said around 1,800 Canadian citizens in Sudan have signed up with the Registration of Canadians Abroad service, though not all plan to leave.
It has heard from around 700 “affected persons” who want help leaving the country, including 500 Canadians, about 30 permanent residents and others whose status is unknown.
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly told reporters earlier Wednesday that the government is considering a request from Sudanese diaspora groups for relatives to be able to come to Canada on a temporary basis until the violence abates.
She noted that Canada is including dual nationals and permanent residents of Canada in its plans to help, as well as their spouses and dependants.
“In times of crisis, Canada’s always there to help, and that’s why we’ll be there,” Joly said.
Because Immigration Department definitions limit “immediate family” to spouses or partners, dependants and dependants of dependants under the age of 22, the parents and grandparents of Canadians will not qualify for help.
“The decision to leave is also very difficult, and not everyone will be taking that decision because they also have family members that they are concerned about,” said Sunday.
“We dealt with a very similar reality in Afghanistan and it is very difficult.”
The emergency flights will only go as far as a safe third country. After that, it is up to individuals to make their way to Canada or another destination, officials said, though the federal government has a loan program available for those who cannot afford the cost of travel.
Auchterlonie said Canadian planes are arriving later than those of numerous allies and even some developing countries, in part because they were stationed as far away as the Arctic and Japan. One C-17 was in the Horn of Africa.
He said HMCS Montreal and the naval supply ship MV Asterix, which are now near the Port of Sudan in the Red Sea, have been working to resupply allies as well.
Experts and officials have been warning the Canadian Armed Forces’ resources are stretched thin at the moment.
There is a shortfall of more than 16,000 members at the same time as the military is leading a NATO battle group in Latvia, training Ukrainian soldiers, boosting its presence in the Indo-Pacific, and managing increasing demands to deal with emergencies at home.
However, Defence Minister Anita Anand touted the success of the multinational group co-ordinating the evacuations when asked whether Canada has been slow to respond.
“We’re working very closely with our allies to ensure that we have a secure and targeted approach to get Canadians out,” Anand told reporters Wednesday morning.
“We’ll continue to do whatever possible, together with our allies and with our own capabilities, to ensure the safety and security of all Canadians.”
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