Foreign nations are rushing to get their citizens out of Sudan as rival military factions battle in the capital Khartoum where millions of residents are trapped inside their homes, many running low on water and food.
The eruption of fighting on April 15 between the army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group has triggered a humanitarian crisis, killed at least 420 people and left behind charred tanks, gutted buildings and shops that have been looted and torched.
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As people attempted to flee the chaos over the weekend, foreign governments began landing aircraft and organising convoys in Khartoum to pull out their nationals.
The United States said special forces using MH-47 Chinook helicopters swept into Sudan’s battle-stricken capital from a US base in Djibouti, spending just one hour on the ground to bring out fewer than 100 people.
United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Twitter on Sunday that members of his country’s armed forces had completed a “complex and rapid evacuation of British diplomats and their families from Sudan”.
Germany and France announced Sunday that they had begun evacuating their nationals and those from other countries. Other European countries, including Italy, the Netherlands and Greece, also said they were planning rescue efforts.
A French plane carrying about 100 people of multiple nationalities “landed in Djibouti”, according to French President Emmanuel Macron, with a second flight of another 100 people expected to leave Sunday evening.
Long convoys of UN vehicles and buses were seen leaving Khartoum heading east to Port Sudan on the Red Sea, 850km (530 miles) away by road, carrying “citizens from all over the world”, according to one Sierra Leonean evacuee.
Turkey began rescue operations at dawn Sunday via road from the southern city of Wad Madani, but the effort was postponed from one site in Khartoum after explosions near a mosque designated as the assembly area, the embassy said on Twitter.
An Italian air force C-130 that left Khartoum with evacuees landed Sunday night at an air base in Djibouti, the country’s Defence Ministry said. Another plane, carrying Italy’s ambassador and military personnel involved in the evacuation, was expected in Djibouti later in the night.
About 100 people were flown out of Khartoum by Spanish military aircraft — more than 30 Spaniards and the rest from Portugal, Italy, Poland, Ireland, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and Argentina, the foreign ministry said.
Officials in Jordan said four planes landed at Amman military airport carrying 343 Jordanian evacuees from Port Sudan.
Egypt, which said it had more than 10,000 citizens in Sudan, urged those in cities other than Khartoum to head to consular offices in Port Sudan and Wadi Halfa in the north for evacuation, the state-run MENA news agency reported.
On Saturday, Saudi Arabia said it evacuated 157 people, including 91 Saudi nationals and citizens of other countries. Saudi state TV showed a large convoy of cars and buses from Khartoum to Port Sudan, where a navy ship took them to the Saudi port of Jeddah.
Ghana, India and Libya also said they were working to bring home their people, and Russia’s Ambassador to Sudan, Andrey Chernovol, told Al Jazeera that nearly all Russian citizens in Khartoum had been moved to the Russian embassy building.
“We are looking into all possible ways for evacuating Russians,” the ambassador said.
‘Seeing the foreigners leave made me upset’
The scramble by foreigners to flee the country has heightened fears among Sudanese of what will happen when diplomats who could act as potential mediators have gone.
Some Sudanese also expressed frustration at the rival factions who appeared to show more concern for foreign nationals than for the safety of locals.
“Seeing the foreigners leave made me upset because I see there’s some groups that were helped by the army and RSF, meanwhile we keep getting hit,” said Alsadig Alfatih, who on Sunday managed to leave his home for the first time since the fighting erupted and said he would head to Egypt.
Thousands of Sudanese have fled the fighting in Khartoum and elsewhere, UN agencies said, but millions are sheltering in their homes amid explosions, gunfire and looting without adequate electricity, food or water.
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described multiple deadly attacks on health facilities in Sudan.
“Paramedics, front-line nurses and doctors are often unable to access the wounded and the injured cannot reach facilities,” he tweeted.
The WHO retweeted a post from Sudan’s Health Ministry on Sunday saying at least 420 people had been killed and 3,700 injured in the fighting so far.
Pope Francis appealed for an end to the violence during his Sunday midday prayer in Rome.