‘Nightmare’: Sudan evacuees fear for those left behind – Digital Journal

A Saudi Navy sailor carries a child as evacuees arrive at the King Faisal Naval Base in Jeddah on April 26, 2023, following a rescue operation in Sudan – Copyright AFP/File Arun SANKAR

Rania Sanjar

Earlier this month, Wissam Moustafa traveled from the United States to Sudan to celebrate Eid al-Fitr with his family, only to find himself embroiled in fierce fighting between warring generals.

On Wednesday, after a harrowing journey by land and an overnight journey by boat across the Red Sea, he joined thousands of civilians who fled to Saudi Arabia, grateful to have survived but wracked with guilt and concern for those he left behind. .

“I had the chance to leave, not like my sisters,” Moustafa, who holds a US passport, said through tears as he disembarked from a huge commercial ship carrying more than 1,600 civilians to the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah.

“I don’t know if they will be able to get out.”

Wednesday’s arrivals represented more than 50 countries, from the Philippines to Zimbabwe and from Ireland to Nicaragua, according to a statement from the Saudi Arabian Foreign Ministry.

Whether they have spent only a short time in Sudan or have built lives there for many years, all expressed concern about what would become of friends, family and colleagues who remain in the country.

Conditions are harsh, amid urban fighting and severe shortages of food, water, fuel and medicine.

Bilal Al Ayoubi, a 37-year-old Lebanese citizen, had only been in Sudan for a short time before he had to flee. He said that he felt “very close to that.”

“Your people are very kind and they don’t deserve what is happening to them,” he said.

Hadia Aladwani, from Egypt, spent 16 years in Sudan, where her husband ran a plastics factory, staying through previous periods of turmoil, including protests that led the army to overthrow dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019.

This week, however, they decided that trying to cope with the current crisis was untenable.

“We left our houses, all our belongings, so we sure felt like we were in a nightmare,” Aladwani said.

– Journey without sleep –

Fighting in Sudan pits forces loyal to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan against those backing his deputy-turned-rival Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who commands the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

At least 459 people have been killed and more than 4,000 injured, according to UN agencies.

Evacuees began arriving in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, with boats arriving in Jeddah carrying 150 people, including diplomats and foreign officials.

On Monday, a C-130 Hercules military plane carried dozens of South Korean civilians to Jeddah’s King Abdullah airbase, and a ship carried nearly 200 people from 14 countries across the Red Sea from Port Sudan.

Wednesday’s operation was by far the largest to date, with some passengers being crammed onto the stairs for the 10-hour sea journey.

After what many described as a sleepless night, the haggard-looking group was called country by country to retrieve their bags and go ashore, where they were met by Saudi soldiers who handed them plastic-wrapped red and pink roses.

Among the passengers were several Syrian citizens who told AFP they had fled to Sudan after civil war broke out in their country in 2011, describing a sense of shock at fleeing the conflict once again.

“We left our country because of the war and we arrived in another country that is also facing the war. This experience, which we have lived through twice, is very difficult,” said Batool, 35.

As she spoke, her 17-year-old son Adham broke down in tears.

“I left behind so many dreams,” she said, but she couldn’t speak anymore.

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