‘We were not sleeping, eating or drinking’: Sudan evacuees tell of dangerous journeys

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Evacuees from the fighting in Sudan have described a harrowing escape from the violence-wracked capital, across the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia.

Wheelchair-bound elderly women and babies asleep in their parents’ arms were among the nearly 200 people from more than 20 countries who disembarked from a naval frigate in the coastal city of Jeddah on Monday night after a daring journey to safety.

“We travelled a long way from Khartoum to Port Sudan. It took us around 10 or 11 hours,” said Lebanese national Suhaib Aicha, who has operated a plastics factory in Sudan for more than a decade.

“It took us another 20 hours on this ship from Port Sudan to Jeddah,” he told the AFP news agency as his young daughter cried on his shoulders.

“We were not sleeping, eating or drinking. We lived through many difficult days,” said another Lebanese passenger who declined to give her name.

Fighting broke out in Sudan on 15 April between forces loyal to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy turned rival Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, known as Hemedti, who commands the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

At least 427 people have been killed and more than 3,700 wounded, according to UN agencies, and many are now grappling with acute shortages of water, food, medicines and fuel as well as power and internet blackouts.

Late Monday, US secretary of state Antony Blinken announced Burhan and Hemedti had agreed to a 72-hour ceasefire.

Saudi royal navy personnel assist a woman who was evacuated from Sudan
Saudi royal navy personnel assist a woman who was evacuated from Sudan Photograph: Saudi Press Agency/Reuters

Those who reached Saudi soil on Monday said they were grateful to be out of a country where the doctors’ union has reported that “morgues are full” and “corpses litter the streets”.

Saudi Arabia has so far welcomed 150 people including foreign diplomats and officials in Jeddah. In total, 356 people have been evacuated to the kingdom from Sudan so far – 101 Saudis and 255 foreigners from more than 20 countries, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

A US special forces operation at the weekend triggered the rush by many other western countries to get their diplomatic staff out. They rescued dozens of people from Khartoum, spending less than an hour on the ground.

France sent two planes to Khartoum, evacuating nearly 400 people, including French nationals as well as citizens of other countries, while Germany’s air force has flown out 311 people so far on three planes from an airfield near Khartoum.

The British military is assessing how to rescue some of the thousands of British nationals still stranded in Sudan after facing criticism for missing a window of opportunity to evacuate more than just British diplomats and their families.

Saudi officials are coming under pressure to do more than facilitate evacuations, given their close ties to the two generals whose troops are fighting it out in and beyond Khartoum.

“Saudi Arabia is a critical player in the ceasefire diplomacy in Sudan,” Alan Boswell of the International Crisis Group told AFP.

“African and western governments are looking to Riyadh for help in convincing Sudan’s military to give talks a chance.”

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( With inputs from : www.theguardian.com )

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