As HMS Al Diriyah approached Sudan’s coast in the dead of night, Saudi officers turned on sweeping searchlights to ensure the warship’s safe entry into a harbor that was quickly developing into a major evacuation and humanitarian hub in the country’s escalating crisis.
Even at 2 a.m. in the morning, two more massive ships were anchored offshore at Port Sudan, the country’s largest port, waiting to participate in this global rescue operation.
Hassan Faraz from Pakistan told us, obviously shaken, “I feel so relieved but also so sad to be part of this history.”
The HMS Al Diriyah traveled from the Saudi port city of Jeddah for ten hours through the night before arriving at the quayside on a Saudi tugboat. Rare access was granted to a select group of foreign journalists so they could visit the troubled Sudan.
While waiting in line on the pier for passports to be compared to the Saudi manifest, Faraz thought, “People will be talking about these events for many years to come.” This time, a large number of young South Asian laborers claimed to have waited for three days here after two arduous weeks in this hellish battle zone.
Another Pakistani guy described having “seen so much, so many bomb blasts and firings” after claiming to have worked at a foundry in Sudan. Then, too traumatized to continue, he remained silent while gazing into the water.
The Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary organization led by Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti, and the Sudanese army, under the command of Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, have been engaged in a fierce power struggle in recent weeks.
“Port Sudan has fared relatively better in this war,” said my British-Sudanese colleague Mohanad Hashim. On April 15, the first day of fighting, refugees from Khartoum and other areas have already encircled this port city.
We had just sailed by the elegant Naval Club, which had been converted into a tent city for the displaced. As they search for an exit, many people are currently camped out on the streets. Embassies that have evacuated the majority of their staff from the capital have quickly set up emergency consular services as people with passports from all over the world are flooding local hotels.
Many people worry that there is no escape. People with less fortunate passports, such as Yemenis, Syrians, and Sudanese, are in abundance in Port Sudan.
3,000 Yemenis, mostly students, have been stranded in Port Sudan for several weeks. A security advisor attempting to assist them in returning to their own war-torn country confessed that “the Saudis are rescuing some Yemenis, but they’re nervous about accepting large numbers.”
Many travelers who arrive in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are given a brief hotel stay. However, it is made clear that their own nations are anticipated to soon foot the bill and coordinate further travel.
In an effort to spot any of his own Sudanese relatives who might be trying to flee, Mohanad Hashim combed the pier at Port Sudan. He unexpectedly found himself embracing a cousin who had arrived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, together with two of his teenage children, after an 18-hour voyage over the Red Sea the day before, at the King Faisal naval base where we had started our adventure.
The moment is bittersweet for Sudanese with foreign passports who reach safe harbor.
Rasha begged for assistance while wearing a pink scarf, with one child dozing on her shoulder and three more waving flowers that Saudi soldiers had distributed. She pleaded with us, “Please tell the world to protect Sudan.” Gunfire broke out on the morning of April 15 near Sport City in Khartoum, where their family had been living.
Leen, her eight-year-old daughter, described the home invasion of armed guys in great detail while speaking with an American accent and perfect English. She said with teenage bravado, “We had to all hide, all ten of us, in the back room.” I didn’t panic. Since we couldn’t make any noise, I refrained from crying.
Her younger sibling said, “They were horrible, bad guys. Her father identified the perpetrators as RSF agents. The majority of the violence and looting are attributed to their gunmen.
Deeply held personal and political resentments, as well as the opposing interests and influence of major countries, are all contributing factors to the intensifying and extremely concerning battle between Sudan’s two most powerful men.
Heavyweights in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have long provided financial support for Hemedti, who became even wealthier by deploying troops to fight for them in the early stages of their disastrous conflict with Yemen’s Houthis.