- By Lyse Doucet
- Head of International Correspondent
Port Sudan is fast becoming an important hub amid Sudan’s violence. BBC international chief correspondent Lyse Doucet has joined the latest evacuation mission to Jeddah.
In the dead of night, as HMS Al Diriyah approached the coast of Sudan, Saudi officers turned on searchlights to ensure safe passage for their warships into a harbor that was rapidly turning into a hub. Mass evacuation and humanitarian aid in Sudan’s growing crisis.
Even at 2 a.m., two other giant ships were anchored off the coast of Port Sudan, the country’s largest port, waiting for their turn to join this international rescue effort.
“I feel very relieved but also very sad to be a part of this history,” Hassan Faraz from Pakistan told us, visibly shaken.
We arrived at the harbor on a Saudi tugboat after a 10-hour overnight cruise aboard the HMS Al Diriyah from the Saudi port city of Jeddah. A small group of foreign journalists rarely have access to Sudan, if only for a short time.
“People will talk about these events for years to come,” reflected Faraz, as a long line formed on the jetty for passport checks against the Saudi manifest. This time, many young workers from South Asia said they had been waiting here for three long days – after two weeks of suffering in this hellish war scene.
Another man from Pakistan, who worked at a Sudanese foundry, said he had “witnessed many, many explosions of bombs and shootings”. Then he fell silent, staring out at the sea, too painful to say more.
The fighting that has broken out in recent weeks, amid very imperfect ceasefires and, in part, is a bitter battle for power between the Sudanese army led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the paramilitary group The Rapid Support Force (RSF) is led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo. widely known as Hemedti.
Mohanad Hashim, my Sudanese-British colleague, explains: “Port Sudan has performed relatively better in this war. “Fighting broke out here only on April 15, the first day, but now the port city is overrun with people fleeing from Khartoum and other places.”
We had just sailed past the charming Navy Club that had become a tent village for evacuees. Many people are now sleeping on the streets as they wait for an exit. Local hotels were flooded with passport holders from around the world, along with emergency consular services hastily set up by embassies, who had evacuated most of their staff from capital.
Many people fear there is no way out. Port Sudan is packed with less fortunate passport holders, including Yemenis, Syrians and Sudanese.
About 3,000 Yemenis, mostly students, have been stranded for weeks in Port Sudan. “The Saudis are rescuing some Yemenis but they are worried about accepting large numbers,” admitted one security adviser trying to help them find their way back to their own war-torn country.
Many passengers arriving in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia are offered a short stay at the hotel. But what is clear is that their countries are expected to receive the bill and arrange the next trip soon.
Mohanad Hashim watches the jetty in Port Sudan, hoping to catch any of his Sudanese relatives who may be trying to get out. The day before, at King Faisal naval base in Jeddah, where we began our journey, he suddenly found himself hugging a cousin who had made it to the city of Saudi Arabia, along with two his teenage son, after 18 hours crossing the sea. Red Sea.
For Sudanese with foreign passports who reach safe shores, this moment is bittersweet.
“Please, please help our family left behind in Sudan,” begged Rasha in a pink scarf, a baby sleeping on her shoulder, three other waving flowers given by Saudi soldiers. “Please tell the world to protect Sudan,” she implored us. The family lived near Sport City in Khartoum, where gunfire broke out on the morning of April 15.
Her eight-year-old daughter, Leen, who speaks fluent English with an American accent, excitedly details how armed men broke into their home. “We all have to hide, all ten of us, in the back room,” she declared with youthful courage. “I kept calm. I didn’t cry because we couldn’t make any noise.”
“They’re the bad guys, the bad guys,” her brother interjected. Her father explained that it was the RSF force. Their gunmen are blamed for much of the looting and violence.
This deepening and deeply disturbing war between Sudan’s two most powerful men is fueled not only by deep personal and political animosity, but also by competing interests and influence. influence of the great powers.
Regional heavyweights, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have long funded Hemedti, who has grown richer by sending fighting forces to their side. during the early years of Yemen’s destructive war against the Houthis.
But in recent years, Riyadh has also drawn closer to General Burhan and also has a longstanding relationship with the Sudanese military. The confusing political geography of a country rich in minerals and vast agricultural potential also includes Egypt, Israel and Russia, including the Wagner mercenary group.
But in the current crisis, where the United States and Britain and other would-be peacemakers are also weighing, outside powers are now said to be joining forces in the process. try to put an end to this vicious cycle and the immense suffering of civilians.
Diplomats expressed gratitude for Saudi Arabia’s evacuation effort. So far, more than 5,000 people, of 100 nationalities, have crossed the Red Sea on warships or private vessels chartered by the Saudi military. The largest single operation on Saturday, carrying about 2,000 passengers, even including Iranians. Rivals Riyadh and Tehran have recently forged a cautious partnership, including reopening their embassies and consulates.
“It’s our luck. We hope there will be peace among our nations,” said Nazli, a 32-year-old civil engineer, as she descended to Jeddah with her engineer husband, who also worked for many years as an engineer in Sudan.
In Port Sudan on Sunday, as another packed tugboat sailed through murky waters to a waiting Saudi warship, its passengers waved goodbye to the country they had come from. regret, with sadness, maybe they will never come back.