Evacuation flights to bring Canadians home from Sudan have ended, the federal government said Saturday evening, amid escalating violence and deteriorating safety conditions.
Ottawa said Canadians that are wishing to leave Sudan by road should consider leaving via Port Sudan, where commercial options may be available.
It is advising people to avoid travelling to the Wadi Seidna Airfield due to "the deteriorating security situation."
Earlier Saturday, federal Defence Minister Anita Anand had said that efforts to bring Canadians home from Sudan would continue as long as possible.
She had said at least one evacuation flight was planned by the Canadian military on Saturday. It would be the fifth to leave the Sudanese capital of Khartoum since Thursday.
About 221 people were on board two aircraft that departed on Friday, including 68 Canadians and six permanent residents, Anand said. Approximately 375 Canadians known to be in the country have left on Canadian-led flights or on those operated by allies, she added.
"We are going to continue flights as long as possible, but I will say that the situation is dynamic," Anand had told reporters at a Saturday morning news conference.
"We are examining all options."
Those options, she had said, involve exploring evacuation efforts by land or sea. Two navy vessels bound for the Indo-Pacific region have instead been redirected to remain near the city of Port Sudan in case they can be of future use in getting Canadians home, Anand had said.
She had declined to comment on other options, but said steps taken by other allied countries may guide Canada's efforts.
"The United States did execute a convoy yesterday, and that is the kind of initiative that we are tracking," she had said, stressing for the second day in a row that the window for air evacuations was closing.
Sudan's capital of Khartoum, a city of some five million people, has been transformed into a front line in the grinding conflict between Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, the commander of Sudan’s military, and Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who leads the powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces. The two weeks of bloodshed and strife between the two sides has dashed once-euphoric hopes of Sudan's transition to a democracy.
Canada's evacuation efforts ramped up later than some allied countries. Britain said it was ending its evacuation flights Saturday after demand for spots on the planes had declined. Officials there say more than 1,500 people have been flown out of the country so far.
Azza Ahmed was among those Sudanese-Canadians who made it home, though she gives Ottawa little credit for her safe escape.
A family visit to Khartoum expected to last until May 8 was cut short when violence erupted, prompting Ahmed and her family members to register their presence in the country with Global Affairs Canada.
She said she received a call from Canadian officials at 1 a.m. last Monday informing her a German-run flight could accommodate her and her Canadian relatives in nine hours if they could make it in time to Khartoum's airport 25 kilometres away.
After siphoning all her family’s gas into a single car, Ahmed said what should have been a half-hour drive to the airport took two hours.
Despite driving her family through Khartoum’s back roads, her cousins’ car was nonetheless stopped by members of the Rapid Support Forces. Ahmed’s cousins were let go after getting out of their car, emptying their pockets and explaining all their passengers were women trying to get to safety.
Once at the airport, she and 40 other Sudanese-Canadians departed Sudan for Jordan before being flown to Germany. There, Ahmed and her family booked a commercial flight home to Toronto where they arrived on Wednesday. Ahmed’s cousins had no choice but to stay behind.
“The Kuwaitis, the Indians, the French and South Korea … they were able to get their citizens out safely so many days before the Canadian Embassy even contacted us. I was surprised that we were one of the last countries to be evacuated,” said Ahmed. “(Canada) was able to get their diplomats out within days. But no one seemed to care about us."
Anand had said earlier Saturday that she has confidence military members can work effectively with Canada's allies to get other expatriates to safety.
About 1,800 Canadians notified Global Affairs that they were in Sudan.
The department has previously said about 400 Canadian citizens, permanent residents and their families have asked for consular assistance, but only a fraction of them want help leaving the country.
About 300 Canadians have already been flown to safe third countries amid a significant uptick in violence in Sudan over the past two weeks, officials said on Friday. Others have left on their own, making the journey to neighbouring countries by car or bus.
On Saturday — despite a ceasefire extended under heavy international pressure — residents said clashes continued around the presidential palace, the headquarters of the state broadcaster and a military base in Khartoum. The battles sent thick columns of black smoke billowing over the city skyline.
Anand said Canada welcomed the ceasefire and redoubled her calls for a peaceful end to the ongoing violence. The Sudanese Doctors' Syndicate estimates the fighting has killed more than 400 civilians and injured over 2,000 since it erupted on April 15.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2023.
— With files from The Associated Press
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Kiernan Green, The Canadian Press