A German plane airlifted dozens of Canadians out of Sudan Monday, according to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, after the government says the U.S. military evacuated Canadian diplomatic staff “on very short notice” over the weekend.
Speaking during a photo-op with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Ottawa, Trudeau added that the Canadian military will aim to airlift more Canadians out of Sudan using a C-17 transport plane that is in the region.
He said he heard earlier Monday that a German plane lifted off from the capital, Khartoum, carrying 58 Canadian citizens and one German citizen.
Late Monday, the Canadian Forces said the situation in Sudan is “deteriorating rapidly” and that officials are looking at “every possible option” to support Canadians in Sudan.
In that same joint statement, Global Affairs Canada confirmed Canadian diplomatic staff managed to evacuate on a U.S. military flight that evacuated their own embassy officials from the capital on Sunday.
“Canadian diplomats in Sudan were able to be part of the U.S. military assisted departure on very short notice as they had collocated near the U.S. embassy,” the statement said. “Canada extends its gratitude to the United States for its support.”
The agency had not offered any details Sunday on how the Canadian staff had been evacuated, only confirming they will temporarily work from a safe location outside of the country.
This comes hours after Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said Canada is working with “like-minded countries” to help citizens who remain in Sudan flee the country as an armed conflict there escalates.
She also tweeted that Ottawa is exploring options for “departure assistance” to get Canadians stuck in Sudan out of the conflict-ridden nation.
“Canadians in #Sudan: We are exploring options regarding departure assistance in collaboration with like-minded countries and the international community for as soon as conditions allow,” Joly said in a Twitter post Monday morning.
Global Affairs Canada later confirmed departure assistance was being pursued and thanked allies and partners in the region for their support, but did not provide further details.
Global Affairs Canada is trying to contact all Canadians in Sudan who have registered with the government, and Joly repeated calls for anyone who hasn’t yet done so is urged to get in touch immediately. Officials are in “regular contact” with affected Canadians, the agency said.
The government said late Monday there are currently 1,439 registered Canadians in Sudan. That’s down from the 1,596 reported Sunday. Officials have stressed those figures are estimates because registration is voluntary.
Two rival generals have battled for control of Africa’s third-largest country since April 15. The fighting between Sudan’s army and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group has seen at least 420 people killed.
Furthermore, the conflict has stranded thousands of foreigners, including diplomats and aid workers.
Ottawa temporarily suspended diplomatic operations in Sudan on Sunday. The Canadian embassy in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital city, which was physically closed on April 17 but technically remained in operation, will resume operations once it is safe to do so, Global Affairs Canada said.
Anyone needing consular services is being told contact the government’s Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa.
“We are looking at every possible option to support Canadians in Sudan,” Global Affairs Canada said late Monday.
Global Affairs Canada’s Standing Rapid Deployment Team (SRDT) was sent to nearby Djibouti late last week “to enhance our ability to support and to further assess the needs on the ground.”
The Canadian government had already updated its travel advisory for Sudan on April 16, advising Canadians to avoid all travel to the country.
Ottawa also announced measures on Monday to support Sudanese nationals in Canada who are unable to return home. Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said the government will waive fees for extensions on work and student visas.
“Once these measures are in place, Sudanese nationals can apply for an extension of their status in Canada and move between temporary streams, allowing them to continue studying, working or visiting family free of charge,” a statement from Fraser’s office said.
Fraser said passport and travel document fees will also be waived for Canadian citizens and permanent residents in Sudan.
Later, the Canadian Border Services Agency said it was suspending any work on removals to Sudan of migrants or Sudanese nationals.
Canada aside, many nations are rushing to get their citizens and diplomatic staff out of Sudan.
A German air force plane with 101 people evacuated from Sudan landed in Berlin early Monday; Sweden said that all of its embassy staff in Khartoum, their families and an unspecified number of other Swedes had been evacuated to nearby Djibouti.
Swedish military planes and personnel would continue to help in the evacuation of foreign nationals as long as the security situation allowed, the country said.
Several evacuations are by air. Others are via Port Sudan on the Red Sea, which is about 650 kilometres northeast of Khartoum, but is about 800 kilometres by road.
The German air force has flown out 311 people so far from an airfield near Khartoum, the military said, and the first batch was brought back to Berlin on Monday aboard an Airbus A321 from the Al Azrak base in Jordan, which is being used as a hub for the evacuation operation.
The German military did not provide a break-down of how many of those evacuated were German citizens or nationals from other countries.
U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also confirmed on Twitter early Sunday that British armed forces “have completed a complex and rapid evacuation of British diplomats and their families from Sudan.”
The fighting in Sudan has triggered a humanitarian crisis in the impoverished country, where millions of people have been left without access to basic services. It comes four years after long-ruling autocrat Omar al-Bashir was toppled.
The army and Rapid Support Forces jointly staged a coup in 2021, but fell out during negotiations to integrate the two groups and form a civilian government. The rivalry has raised the risk of a wider conflict that could draw in outside powers.
— with files from Global News’ Saba Aziz, Reuters and the Canadian Press