September 21, 2023

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Thousands are trying to flee Port Sudan. Only a few can make it

Port Sudan, Sudan (CNN) In the dark of night, the nightmare is nearly over for the lucky few gathered on the wharf inside Port Sudan.

Under floodlights, a tugboat docks and ferries dozens of evacuees from a quiet street near the busy wharf. Saudi soldiers wearing masks check their passports and let them pass, bringing them one step closer to safety.

They are among the thousands who have fled since bloody fighting broke out in Sudan between rival military forces more than two weeks ago, making the treacherous 830km journey from the capital to the eastern port in the hope of boarding a ship to safety.

CNN joined a Saudi evacuation mission on Sunday from Jeddah to Port Sudan and back across the Red Sea – a route that has become a lifeline for those whose lives have been turned upside down. conflictsome of them I was left with only a passport And a few more personal items.

Sudanese-American businessman Adel Bashir was one of just 52 evacuees who boarded the Royal Saudi Navy ship HMS Ad Diriyah on Sunday. He told CNN he fled Khartoum after his car dealership was attacked, some of his cars stolen and others burned. “There are a lot of dead bodies in the street,” he said.

Hundreds have been killed and thousands wounded in the fighting. Thousands of foreign nationals have been evacuated from the country, while many Sudanese are still trapped in even more deteriorating and deadly conditions.

And while the fighting has displaced more people from Khartoum, Port Sudan has become a major hub for evacuation.

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Internationally recruited UN staff have moved to the eastern city and thousands are on hold, hoping for flights to catch up. At least two convoys of US citizens and local staff at the US Embassy arrived over the weekend, adding to the numbers.

As of Sunday, the Saudis said they had evacuated 5,197 people of 100 nationalities from the country.

Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Turki al-Maliki told CNN that “Saudi Arabia’s assets and capabilities – both military and civilian – are involved in transporting civilians out of Sudan.” “As long as it is safe, we will continue to do our part.”

Saudi forces lift evacuees onto a ship during a rescue operation from Port Sudan to Jeddah, on April 30, 2023.

Journey to safety

Evacuees aboard HMS Shield were welcomed with flowers, chocolates, bottled water and bottled orange juice.

“It is very difficult and very painful for me [to leave] “Because Sudan is like a second home,” Pakistani migrant worker Hamza Naveed told CNN.

He acted as an unofficial translator for his teammates, listening to instructions in English from the crew and relaying them in Urdu. Others in the group were from countries like Oman and Nepal, all tied in a sad farewell to Africa’s third largest country.

The journey from Port Sudan to Jeddah can take up to 12 hours depending on sea conditions. Although the fleet of the Royal Saudi Navy shuttles back and forth across the Red Sea, demand far outstrips supply.

But each new arrival in Jeddah is a celebration in which uniformed officers line outside the ship to welcome the evacuees and officials pose for photographs. It’s also a well-designed media landscape with dozens of cameras aimed at weary travelers as they disembark. Sometimes, there are tears — equal parts relief and survivor’s guilt.

Saudi Royal Navy officials transfer a disabled civilian to a Saudi Navy ship, as he is being evacuated from Sudan to escape conflict, Port Sudan, Sudan, April 30, 2023.
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Before the ship arrived in Saudi Arabia, the Sudanese Armed Forces said on Sunday that it had agreed to extend the US-Saudi mediation period. cease-fire And for 72 hours after the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces earlier agreed to extend the truce.

But despite the multiple ceasefires, sporadic clashes continued between the two groups and gunfire was heard on Sunday and Monday near the disputed presidential palace in Khartoum, witnesses told CNN.

Eight tons of medical aid arrived in Sudan on Sunday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement, providing relief to severely damaged medical facilities in the country.

But experts say the country is at risk of a humanitarian catastrophe, with those still trapped in their homes still facing shortages of food, water, medicine and electricity.

“The number of corpses scattered in the streets is on the rise, and this is causing an environmental catastrophe,” the Sudan Doctors Syndicate said in a statement on Sunday.

The statement of the preliminary committee of Sudanese doctors called for stopping the “war” and establishing humanitarian corridors for medical aid, ambulances, patients and health workers.

She added that there is also a dire situation at the Walfa Hadia border crossing between Egypt and Sudan, where many deaths due to dehydration have been reported.

Additional reporting by Muhammad Darwish, Fabian Mehair, Iyad Kordi, Aaron Baelish, and Sahar Akbarzai, CNN correspondent.