Thousands are fleeing to Sudan’s main seaport in search of safe ships
Thousands of people have fled to a port city in eastern Sudan in recent days, fleeing violence in the capital and attempting to secure their escape aboard ships bound for Saudi Arabia across the Red Sea.
The coastal city of Port Sudan — the country’s largest seaport — has turned into a hub for displaced people, where people are lining up makeshift tents, packing up an amusement park for shelter and waiting for help in triple-digit heat.
The conflict that erupted on April 15 between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary group, has killed more than 500 civilians and plunged Africa’s third-largest nation into chaos, according to the World Health Organization, with many people displaced but uncertain, how to escape violence The actual number of victims is likely much higher.
A three-day extension of the last ceasefire was also announced on Sunday, but fierce fighting was still being reported from the capital Khartoum, including an accusation by the RSF that the army was shelling its positions.
On the Port Sudan waterfront, fugitives have attached cloth to chairs and railings to form makeshift tents, video footage and images shared on social media have been shown. Some rested on their suitcases, which contained all the belongings they had fled with. Families waited under the scorching sun with temperatures exceeding 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
But unlike Khartoum, there was no fighting in Port Sudan and restaurants and grocery stores were open, Yasir Zaidan, a lecturer in international affairs at the National University of Sudan, said Monday. Mr Zaidan, a US permanent resident who arrived in the port city in an American convoy on Sunday morning, said the army is in control of the city and that the convoy passed through army checkpoints on its way there.
Behind the hotel where he was waiting for news from the US consul was an amusement park with roller coasters and other rides, he said. But now it was swarming with women, children and the elderly suffering from the heat.
“It’s becoming more and more like a refugee camp,” he said.
Saudi Arabia has launched a major rescue operation, dispatching warships and chartering private vessels which it said had evacuated 5,197 people of 100 nationalities as of Sunday, 184 of whom were Saudis. But the demand far exceeds the supply. So far, only dual nationality Sudanese seem to have been evacuated.
Many of the people of Port Sudan only hold Sudanese passports, meaning they could be stuck in the port indefinitely as countries prioritize issuing dual nationals. For those without a passport, escaping the fighting could be even more difficult.
People boarded ships for the 180-mile journey to Saudi Arabia’s second largest city, Jeddah, crying for the homes and family members they had to leave behind.
The head of Saudi Arabia’s General Department of Passports said the country will grant free visas to all foreign nationals who have been legally evacuated from Sudan, but they must have envisaged plans to leave the kingdom. Details of the process were still unclear on Monday.
Saudi Arabia, which lies less than 150 miles from Sudan across the Red Sea, has played a pivotal role in freeing foreigners from Sudan since violence erupted. The evacuation also fitted in with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s efforts to position the kingdom as a rising world power and a neutral mediator between various leaders: Saudi officials have ties to both of Sudan’s rival generals and have played a role in efforts that have tried and failed Bring Sudan to civilian rule.
Sudan is home to one of the largest refugee populations in Africa — about 1.1 million people, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, most of them from South Sudan — and many of those people, including Yemenis and Syrians, are now trying to find safety again bring to . According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, around 3,000 South Sudanese flee back to their fragile country every day.
The 500-mile journey from Khartoum to Port Sudan is harrowing. Mr Zaidan fled with his wife on Saturday afternoon, leaving his grandparents behind and passing through many RSF-operated checkpoints on their way out of the city. On one occasion, paramilitary forces stole all cellphones from passengers on one of the seven US buses, he said, and a woman’s gold jewelry.
When they arrived in Port Sudan, the scene was chaotic, he said, and there was no US official to tell him or the other 140 people in the American convoy how they would be evacuated. Some US citizens had waited three days with no news, he said, and the price of a seat on a private ship, if one was available, skyrocketed.
State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Sunday the United States has helped evacuate nearly 1,000 of its citizens from Sudan since the crisis began. He said American officials would continue to “assist U.S. citizens and other beneficiaries with onward travel to Jeddah,” where there are additional American personnel.
As the conflict in Sudan enters its third week, aid is also beginning to arrive in Port Sudan. Eight tons of medical supplies sent by the Red Cross were dumped there on Sunday, the organization said, but it wasn’t immediately clear where they were going. The United Nations said it took so long to get aid to Sudan because its supplies in the country were looted. The UN Secretary General announced on Sunday that he is deploying his humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths, to the region.
After Sunday’s announcement of an extended ceasefire, both the army and fast support forces almost immediately accused the other of violators, with the army claiming to have destroyed RSF convoys heading into Khartoum from the west and the RSF saying the Army have attacked positions in Khartoum province with artillery and warplanes.
Vivian Nereim And Ahmed Al Omran contributed reporting.