Group calls on Canada to create sponsor program for family fleeing war-torn Sudan

Group calls on Canada to create sponsor program for family fleeing war-torn Sudan
THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Marwan Ali
Smoke is seen in Khartoum, Sudan, on Saturday, April 22, 2023. The fighting in the capital between the Sudanese Army and Rapid Support Forces resumed after an internationally brokered cease-fire failed.

A Canadian trapped in the middle of an escalating war in Sudan blamed his home government on Saturday for his harrowing three-day journey out of the war-torn country, saying Ottawa has failed to provide stranded residents with a clear evacuation plan.

Hisham Mohamed, 49, was due to fly home to Welland, Ont., on April 18 but saw his flight cancelled amid growing violence between Sudan’s army and the rival paramilitary force known as the Rapid Support Forces.

He decided to make the dangerous trek out of the Sudanese capital of Khartoum after facing the prospect of running out of food and water.

Mohamed said he signed up with the Global Affairs registry of Canadian citizens the same day the fighting started one week ago, but didn’t hear anything further. After calling Global Affairs Canada daily for three or four days, he was only advised to seek shelter.

“After the fourth call with them, I decided they’re not gonna do anything,” Mohamed said in a telephone interview from the border between Sudan and Egypt. “That’s when I made my decision to make a move and try to get out of Khartoum and eventually out of Sudan.”

The ride to Egypt is typically seven hours but took Mohamed three days. He said the journey involved buses, pickup trucks and small vehicles, as well as an overnight stay in one location.

“Whatever you get, you just take it,” Mohamed said. “But thank God, safely I made it.”

The Sudanese army said Saturday it was co-ordinating efforts to evacuate foreign citizens and diplomats from four countries as fighting spilled into a second week.

Army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan said he would facilitate the evacuation of American, British, Chinese and French citizens and diplomats from Sudan after speaking with the leaders of several countries that had requested help. The White House did not immediately confirm the military’s report.

Several foreign countries, including Canada, have struggled to repatriate their citizens — many of whom are trapped in their homes as food supplies dwindle.

Global Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether Canadians would receive evacuation help from Sudan, and Foreign Affairs Minister MĂ©lanie Joly has previously said Canada had no way of helping trapped citizens escape the fighting. Flights have been grounded for days, and most major airports have become dangerous battlegrounds.

Mohamed, a married father of four from Ontario’s Niagara region, said even his family discouraged him from making the trip.

“But I said, OK, if I’m gonna die, let me try dying while I’m trying to escape instead of here trying to get water and they shoot me or something,” he said. “Might as well just try to get out and maybe I’m lucky, that’s how I came to this decision.”

Meanwhile, the head of a Sudanese Canadian community organization said his group is calling on the federal government to create a program for community members seeking to sponsor family who are either stuck in Sudan or have fled to nearby bordering countries.

Ashraf alTahir, president of the Sudanese Canadian Communities Association, says the umbrella organization of groups based across the country wrote to Joly and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday. He said members of the diaspora are prepared to pay any associated costs, but need the government to put a program in place. They also called for an evacuation plan and humanitarian aid.

“As we speak right now there is no safe place,” AlTahir said. “No one can tell the exact number of deaths right now, the death toll is increasing in astronomical numbers.”

Estimates from the World Health Organization put the number of casualties at more than 400 so far.

AlTahir said his organization has heard from Canadians who are rationing water to stop from going outside and are trying to stay safe. Others are making an effort to flee.

“But up until now there is no action plan in place, no one is clear,” alTahir said. “So people, they started to take this stuff on their shoulders to flee to nearby countries.”

AlTahir said he fears the situation in Sudan could turn into another genocide like the one Rwanda saw in 1994, adding western governments must not abandon the people of Sudan.

“We are asking the Canadian government and the international community to take their responsibility in protecting and defending the civilians,” alTahir said.

The federal government announced late Friday it had sent members of its Global Affairs Standing Rapid Deployment Team to Djibouti due to the volatile and rapidly deteriorating situation in Sudan. Joly said Canada’s embassy in Khartoum has temporarily suspended in-person operations, but the team can provide emergency response, co-ordination, consular assistance and logistical support.

The federal government said the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces are also planning for contingencies but gave no further details.

Global Affairs Canada said Saturday there are 1,596 Canadians known to be in Sudan, but the number is only an estimate as registration is voluntary. AlTahir said his organization is also gathering data on community members stuck in the country to help with any evacuation efforts.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 22, 2023.

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