Sudan crisis: Chaos at the port as thousands rush to leave
Port Sudan has become a vital hub amid the violence in Sudan. Lyse Doucet, BBC Chief International Correspondent, joined the latest evacuation to Jeddah.
In the dead of night, as HMS Al Diriyah approached Sudan’s coast, Saudi officers flicked on sweeping searchlights to secure safe passage for their warship into a harbor rapidly transforming into a major evacuation and humanitarian hub in Sudan’s deepening crisis.
Two other massive vessels were also waiting for their turn at Port Sudan’s largest port at 2 am, awaiting the international rescue operation.
“I feel so relieved but also so sad to be part of this history,” Hassan Faraz from Pakistan told us, visibly shaken.
We reached the quayside in a Saudi tugboat at the end of a 10-hour journey through the night in HMS Al Diriyah from the Saudi port city of Jeddah. A small group of foreign journalists was given rare access to enter embattled Sudan, if only briefly.
“People will be speaking about these events for many years to come,” Faraz reflected, as a long queue formed on the wharf for passports to be checked against the Saudi manifest. This time, it was many young workers from South Asia who said they had waited here for three long days – after two hard weeks in this hellscape of war.
Another man from Pakistan, who said he had worked at a Sudanese foundry, spoke of having “seen so much, so many bomb blasts and firing”. Then he fell silent, staring into the sea, too traumatized to say more.
The fighting which raged in recent weeks, amidst very imperfect and partial ceasefires, is a pitched battle for power between the Sudanese army led by Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group headed by Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, widely known as Hemedti.
“Port Sudan has fared relatively better in this war,” my British-Sudanese colleague Mohanad Hashim explained. “Fighting only erupted here on 15 April, the first day, but now this port city is overwhelmed by people fleeing Khartoum and other places.”
We had just sailed past the graceful Naval Club turned tented village for the displaced. Many people are now sleeping rough on the streets as they wait for a way out. Local hotels are swamped by people with passports from the world over, along with emergency consular services hastily established by embassies who have evacuated most of their staff from the capital.
Many fear there is no way out. Port Sudan is packed with people who have less lucky passports, including Yemenis, Syrians, and Sudanese.
Some 3,000 Yemenis, mainly students, have been stuck for weeks in Port Sudan. “The Saudis are rescuing some Yemenis but they’re nervous about accepting large numbers,” admitted a security adviser trying to help them find a way back to their own war-torn country.