On Friday, Doha News joined the Qatari Amiri Air Force as Doha launched its first evacuation flight out of Sudan.
Millions of Sudanese civilians woke up on 15 April to find themselves in the midst of the country’s worst and deadliest conflict in years.
As gunfire broke out between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the Sudanese army, civilians in the capital Khartoum were struck with uncertainty and grief as their beloved nation plunged into chaos.
Almost immediately, Port Sudan became a safe zone for thousands of Sudanese seeking shelter from the deadly violence. The coastal city was flooded with families, many of which had travelled to their home country for Eid celebrations, desperate to return to their countries of residence.
“Unfortunately, I came for a vacation and then the conflict began. We faced difficult conditions, we couldn’t even leave Khartoum,” Nematalla Sabir, 24, a Sudanese citizen living in Qatar, told Doha News.
Sabir, who works as a doctor in Qatar, was among 168 residents airlifted in the first evacuation flight to the Gulf state early on Saturday. The Qatar-based health professional had arrived in Sudan on 13 April, just days before the unknown transpired.
Travelling from Khartoum to Shendi, Atbara and on to Port Sudan, Sabir found herself facing catastrophe after catastrophe.
“There was the fear of getting hit by a bullet and the lack of security. We faced one of the thugs and a lot of problems occurred up until we arrived at Port Sudan,” Sabir said, reflecting back on her arduous week-long journey.
On the tarmac at Port Sudan International Airport, Qatari amiri forces and volunteers unloaded some 50 tonnes of aid as the roaring sound of the military aircraft bellowed in the night.
Shortly after, suitcases belonging to Sabir and other Qatar residents were quickly rolled into the jet as Qatar prepared for its first of several evacuation flights. The area was lit by a few distant lamp posts and the towering moon above.
Standing alone among strangers, Sabir couldn’t help but look back on the horrors of the previous weeks.
“If the war ends, the size of the damage would require [Khartoum] to be completely reconstructed. The destruction it sustained is not minor,” Sabir said, before being whisked onto the aircraft by the military.
Just a few metres behind her stood a 64-year-old waiting to board.
No mercy for the elderly
Alaweya Helelo has called Qatar home for nearly 40 years and was now seeking a way back to the Gulf state after a treacherous hours-long journey and a week-long stay in Port Sudan.
“I came from Khartoum on a 12-hour busy journey that was exhausting and hectic. But eventually I reached Port Sudan, praise be to God,” Alaweya told Doha News inside the military jet.
Helelo had travelled to Sudan to spend the holy month of Ramadan and Eid with her family in her home country. However, things took a turn for the worse when fighting broke out during the final 10 nights of the fasting month – known to be the holiest for Muslims around the world.
“Our situation is very bad, my dear. We have never faced such circumstances. May God punish the perpetrator and bestow his mercy upon us,” Helelo added.
Three weeks since the first bullet was shot between rival camps, the violent conflict has continued to rage on. So far, at least 700 people have been killed in Sudan since the start of the fighting, per the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.
Although Sudan has faced years of instability, the latest round of violence erupted with no prior warning.
Syrian resident of Qatar, Mohamad Amin was in his senior year at the Al Ribat Al Watani University in Khartoum when the shelling first began. Although he was on holiday from studies at the time, the 23-year-old was looking forward to his graduation in just a few weeks time.
Instead, Amin put on whatever clothes he found and stuffed a backpack with all he can carry before heading out of the capital.
“We have reached a point where we can’t find basic necessities if we ever wanted to buy any,” he told Doha News before boarding the Qatari jet. Amin said his education in Sudan has been disrupted on several occasions; during the 2019 revolution, the 2021 coup that followed, and now due to the latest battle for power.
“It is, God willing, my final year and a lot of issues happened here[…]so I hope Sheikh Tamim helps me to continue my education in Qatar,” the medical student said, seeking help from authorities in Doha.
On Saturday, representatives of the warring factions finally met in Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah as mediators from around the world seek a swift exit from the weeks-long violence.
Despite the tragedies she has witnessed following decades of political instability in her homeland, Helelo remained optimistic.
“The people of Sudan are kind hearted. We are very, very kind and generous and God willing he will be by our side. And this crisis will end, God willing,” she said.
Sitting inside the aircraft, the elderly Sudanese woman looked out to her homeland as the door began to lift shut.
“My message to the world is to try to speak to the forces’ and advise them to back down[…]As for the Arab world, I wish they can step up and gather Burhan and Hemedti and try to convince them that they are family, that they are brothers,” she said.