Foreign affairs minister says evacuation from Sudan 'impossible' now due to security risks

The Canadian government is warning all citizens currently in Sudan to shelter in place as violence between Sudan's army and a powerful paramilitary force is expected to escalate in the coming days.

Government says at least 1,500 Canadians are still in the north African country

Smoke rises over a suburban area in Sudan.
Smoke rises in Khartoum, Sudan, on Wednesday. Terrified Sudanese are fleeing their homes in the city, witnesses say, after an internationally brokered ceasefire failed and rival forces battled in the capital for a fifth day. (Marwan Ali/The Associated Press)

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly says evacuating citizens and diplomatic staff from Sudan is "impossible" right now due to security risks in the capital Khartoum.

Joly said Sudan's airports have become battlegrounds and leaving Khartoum for safer areas is dangerous.

"The situation renders it impossible at the moment," Joly told CBC News on Thursday. "We are assessing the situation constantly."

With violence between Sudan's army and a powerful paramilitary force expected to escalate in the coming days, Ottawa is warning all citizens currently in Sudan to stay where they are.

WATCH | Foreign affairs minister discusses situation in Sudan

Foreign minister says evacuations from Sudan are 'impossible' right now

6 months ago
Duration 1:13
Foreign Minister Melanie Joly says her office is keeping a close eye on the situation on the ground but evacuations are not possible right now because the airport is closed and the streets are unsafe.

Global Affairs Canada (GAC) said it's aware of roughly 1,500 Canadians who have notified the government through an online registry that they are in Sudan, but added there are likely more.

"Since registration is voluntary, the number of registrants for any given area is typically not fully representative of the number of Canadians actually residing or visiting that area," a statement said.

Shama-el Sidahmed said Ottawa's response is "disappointing." Sidahmed's parents, Ragia and Moatasim, went to visit family in Sudan before the fighting erupted. They are now trapped with no way out.

"I'm so disappointed because there is no concrete plan. There is no concerted effort being made by the Canadian government," she said.

A man wearing a checkered shirt stands beside a woman wearing sunglasses and an orange shawl.
Moatasim and Ragia Sidahmed are currently trapped in Sudan after fighing in the nation's capital broke out last week. (Submitted by Shama-el Sidahmed)

Sidahmed said her father, who is diabetic, has no access to his medication. She said she and her siblings are constantly reaching out to check in on their parents.

"If they don't message us back or at pick up our phone call, we think the worst," she said. "At work I can't focus ... I'm constantly thinking, like, are they OK?"

Other countries, including the U.S., have started preparations to evacuate their diplomats from Khartoum. On Thursday, sources told The Associated Press that the Pentagon would be moving additional troops and equipment to a naval base in Djibouti to prepare for the possible evacuation of U.S. embassy personnel from Sudan.

An apartment building complex is blackened. Rubble is seen laying in the street.
Residential buildings damaged in fighting are seen in Khartoum, Sudan, Thursday, April 20, 2023. The latest attempt at a cease-fire between the rival Sudanese forces faltered as gunfire rattled the capital of Khartoum. Through the night and into Thursday morning, gunfire could be heard almost constantly across Khartoum. (Marwan Ali/The Associated Press)

The government is advising Canadians currently in Sudan to shelter in place, stay away from windows, monitor local media for updates and follow advice of local authorities. Ottawa also has updated its travel advisory notice, which now cautions Canadians to avoid all travel to Sudan.

But Sidahmed said even staying put comes with risks.

"There needs to be a plan. What do they advise? Shelter in place until what? Until a stray bullet comes into the house?" she said. "People are dying in their homes."

Ceasefire ends

Sudan's military ruled out negotiations with its rival paramilitary force on Thursday, saying it would only accept its surrender. The two sides continued to battle in central Khartoum and other parts of the country, threatening to wreck international attempts to broker a longer ceasefire.

A tenuous 24-hour ceasefire that began the previous day ran out Thursday with no word of extension. The military's statement raised the likelihood of a renewed surge in fighting after nearly a week of violence that has killed hundreds and pushed Sudan's population to the breaking point. Many have warned that the country's medical system is on the verge of collapse, with many hospitals forced to shut down and others running out of supplies.

In recent weeks, fighters have attacked aid workers, hospitals and diplomats — including a European Union ambassador who was assaulted in his home.

At least 330 people have been killed and 3,300 wounded in the fighting since it began Saturday, the UN's World Health Organization said, but the toll is likely higher because many bodies lie uncollected in the streets.

The clashes are part of a power struggle between Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the commander of the armed forces, and Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the head of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) group. The two generals are former allies who jointly orchestrated an October 2021 military coup that derailed Sudan's short-lived transition to democracy.

In recent months, internationally backed negotiations revived hopes for an orderly transition to democracy. However, growing tensions between al-Burhan and Dagalo eventually delayed a deal with political parties.

Black smoke billows from airplanes on a tarmac, as seen from above.
This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows destroyed airplanes in Khartoum International Airport, Sudan, Monday April 17, 2023. (Maxar Technologies/The Associated Press)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to the combatants to commit to a three-day ceasefire to coincide with the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, beginning Friday, marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

"We are living a very important moment in the Muslim calendar. I think this is the right moment for a ceasefire to hold," he told reporters.

But so far, direct communications with the rival generals by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the Turkish president and others over the past days have been unable to secure even 24 hours of calm, much less a longer truce aimed at leading to negotiations to resolve the crisis. Each side's main regional allies, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, have called in vain for talks.


Darren Major

CBC Journalist

Darren Major is a senior writer for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He can be reached via email at darren.major@cbc.ca.

With files from Louis Blouin, Brennan MacDonald, The Associated Press and Thomson Reuters