Canadians forced to cope with stress and heat while waiting for Sudan rescue flight

People are shown waiting at a Sudanese military airport for a rescue flight to arrive on Friday. (Submitted by Gamiela Elsied - image credit)
People are shown waiting at a Sudanese military airport for a rescue flight to arrive on Friday. (Submitted by Gamiela Elsied - image credit)

A woman trying to get out of Sudan described a stressful atmosphere at a military airport as she and others coped with hot weather, dwindling cellphone batteries and other challenges as they waited on Friday for an expected Canadian flight out of the country.

"Conditions here are not very great," said Gamiela Elsied, a Sudanese Canadian who made a treacherous trip to the airport, located north of the capital Khartoum, two days ago and spoke to CBC News Network on Friday.

Elsied — who later reported boarding a subsequent flight following her interview — is among hundreds of Canadians fleeing Sudan following the eruption of a violent power struggle between the country's military and the rival paramilitary group Rapid Support Forces (RSF) earlier this month.

Two Canadian evacuation flights made it safely out of Khartoum late Friday after two earlier airlifts to extract Canadians were cancelled, said Global Affairs Canada and Defence Minister Anita Anand.

A senior defence official in Ottawa said the window for air evacuation out of Sudan is closing rapidly and options are being developed for Global Affairs to get Canadians out of the country by land to the port of Sudan — where a Canadian warship, a supply vessel and allied ships are waiting.

Submitted by Gamiela Elsied
Submitted by Gamiela Elsied

Not an easy journey

Elsied told CBC News Network she made an 11-hour drive from Sudan's Gezira state to the airport.

It wasn't an easy journey, with gas being hard to come by and serious safety concerns becoming apparent.

"Part of the way was safe, but when we came closer to Khartoum, then this is when we started to see the RSF and the [Sudanese] army troops," she said, recounting the events.

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Elsied said she and the others alongside her at the airport faced their own challenges in getting there, only to find they had nowhere to go.

"And we all feel like we just made it out here for nothing, because we expected to be out of here right now."

She said the people waiting at the airport were dealing with very high temperatures, on top of the stress of the situation.

"I have been here since yesterday, but other people, this is Day 3 or Day 4 for them, and we are just waiting indefinitely."

Elsied indicated that she simply wanted to find a way out.

"I'm hoping they might work something out with the British, because they have been taking their people out regularly," said Elsied, who expressed fading hope that a Canadian flight was going to arrive.

Petros Karadjias/The Associated Press
Petros Karadjias/The Associated Press

As of Friday evening, the U.K. had airlifted nearly 1,600 people out of Sudan, including nationals of several European countries. But it has signalled it will end its flights on Saturday evening.

Seeing what other governments have done to get people out has left Elsied feeling critical of Ottawa's own efforts.

"I see other nations evacuating their people and I know it could be done," she said. "I lived in Canada for 26 years and I expected more in [a] time like this."

Challenges to land exits, too

Those who have made it out of the country describe very similar challenges of their own when making their own escape via land.

Dr. Mohammed Abubaker, who is now in Cairo, said the first step of the journey is the hardest for many people — and that is making the decision to leave.

WATCH | Doctor describes 'difficult journey' leaving Sudan:

"The decision to leave your house is not one that anyone should ever be asked to do," he told CBC News Network during an interview on Friday.

Abubaker said the people willing to make the journey then have to face the security risks that come with that.

He described having to sneak out of his own neighbourhood, to get to a place where he could find a way out of Khartoum.

Abubaker said he then spent time with a relative "to try to lay low for a while," before arranging a ride on a bus to Egypt — a trip that lasted five days.