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Canada ends evacuation flights from Sudan over 'deteriorating security situation'

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The federal government will no longer offer evacuation flights out of Sudan "due to the deteriorating security situation" in the country.

The latest travel advisory on Sudan urges Canadians to avoid travelling to the Wadi Seidna Air Base, north of the capital, Khartoum, where countries including Canada have organized flights for their citizens and others.

Canadians who want to leave Sudan may be able to find commercial options through Port Sudan along the Red Sea, about 800 kilometres away from Khartoum, the federal government said in an updated travel notice issued Saturday night.

Speaking to reporters Sunday morning, Defence Minister Anita Anand confirmed that Canada led two more evacuation flights out of Sudan on Saturday, with both Royal Canadian Air Force CC-130 aircraft carrying approximately 205 passengers in total, including 60 Canadians.

Canada's ambassador to Sudan, Philip Lupul, also shared news of the latest evacuation efforts.

"Night moves! Another 200 or so Canadians and other nationalities successfully delivered out of Sudan to safety tonight," Lupul tweeted Saturday evening. "Special shout out to the hardworking air and ground crew attending the Hercs tonight."

According to the Department of National Defence, approximately 400 Canadian citizens and permanent residents have been brought out of Sudan on national and allied flights. The Canadian Armed Forces has conducted a total of six flights out of Wadi Seidna Air Base, carrying nearly 550 people in all, among them 140 U.S. citizens.

Meanwhile, as of Sunday morning, about 230 Canadians in Sudan are still seeking assistance through Global Affairs Canada, Anand added.

"To those seeking assistance still in the region and the family members here in Canada, we are doing our utmost to assist you," she said.

"Canada has officials in the region, including members of the Canadian Armed Forces, Global Affairs Canada and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, who continue and will continue to assist you in evacuations. Canada and our allies are continually assessing how we can assist our citizens in leaving Sudan from various locations."

U.S. LEADING MULTINATIONAL CONVOYS

Two weeks of fighting between rival generals leading Sudan's military and a powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces has killed 425 civilians and wounded 2,091 as of Sunday, said the Sudan Doctors' Syndicate, which is monitoring casualties.

The Sudanese Health Ministry on Saturday put the overall death toll, including fighters, at 528, with 4,500 wounded.

Army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan and Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who heads the Rapid Support Forces, were previously allies in an October 2021 military coup that stopped Sudan's attempted transition to democracy but have since turned on each other.

Tens of thousands of people have fled to neighbouring countries such as Chad and Egypt, while countries have transported thousands of foreigners by air and land.

Anand told reporters during a virtual press conference on Saturday that flights would continue for as long as possible, while also warning that, "The window for opportunity at the airfield is closing."

She said the Canadian Armed Forces had deployed as many 200 members to the region, while HMCS Montreal and MV Asterix, a frigate and Naval Replenishment Unit Motor Vessel bound for the Indo-Pacific region, had been re-tasked with staying near Port Sudan.

Despite a ceasefire agreement that is in place, Anand says fighting has continued in Sudan, including close to the air base.

Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre said that as Canadian aircraft approached the Wadi Seidna Air Base, pilots on their vision goggles could see small-arms fire taking place on the ground.

Officials said the United States is leading a series of multinational convoys from Khartoum to Port Sudan, where a number of options exist for Canadians to leave including by commercial ship and potentially air.

Global Affairs Canada is offering available seats on the convoy and advising those who stay to shelter in place.

"Evacuation by road from Khartoum is a 30-hour journey with many risks along the way and not everyone is able to do that," said Sebastien Beaulieu, an official at Global Affairs Canada.

But as the federal government advises Canadians to consider leaving the country through Port Sudan, CTV military analyst David Fraser, a retired major-general who previously commanded NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, says this brings its own challenges.

"If there's fighting going on in Khartoum, there's going to be fighting at the port itself," he told CTV News Channel on Sunday.

"So the same problems that we had with Khartoum and the airport just outside of it is what we're going to face again at the port and everybody is going to be trying to get on any ship to get out of this country."

The Department of National Defence advises Canadians to wait for updates from Global Affairs Canada regarding additional information about departure options via Port Sudan.

The U.K. government also ended its evacuation flights from Wadi Seidna Air Base, with its last plane leaving Saturday night.

However, the U.K. confirmed Sunday that it has arranged an extra flight from Port Sudan for "a limited number of U.K. nationals" that will depart on Monday. The government says 2,122 people were brought out of the country from Wadi Seidna on 23 flights.

Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly has travelled to Kenya to learn more about what Canada can do to respond to the situation in Sudan. The Canadian embassy in Khartoum has since relocated to Nairobi, Kenya.

As of Sunday, Sudanese nationals in Canada can apply for free to extend their stay or change their status as a visitor, student or temporary worker.

The Canada Border Services Agency also has issued a temporary halt on removals to Sudan, with some exceptions.

CANADIAN DESCRIBES FAMILY'S ESCAPE

Canadian Azza Ahmed, who fled Sudan with members of her family via a German military plane, told CTV's Question Period on Sunday she feels blessed knowing they made it back.

"A week ago, I didn't even think I was going to be able to get out of the house without getting bombed or getting shot at, so I would say I did pretty well," she said.

The fighting reached a point where it became normal to sleep to the sound of bombs and one day, Ahmed says a missile hit the washroom in the backyard where she was staying. Luckily, no one was hurt.

"We were stuck inside for days, we couldn't even walk outside to the front yard or to the backyard because we were afraid that a bomb would drop in our home," she said.

After her cousins managed to find enough gas to drive, Ahmed and members of her family fled to a safer location.

On the way, she says militia members stopped them on the road but let them go after seeing most of them were women.

Even getting to the military base, Ahmed says she wore a diaper underneath her clothes to hide their passports, money and identification due to the risk of being robbed, killed or held hostage by militia.

"It was a big ordeal, that's for sure," she said.

Although she made it to Canada, many of her family are still in Sudan. And with internet and phone service working on and off, Ahmed says it can be almost impossible to reach some of her relatives.

With files from The Canadian Press, The Associated Press and Reuters

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