Sudan: Canadian recounts how he escaped fighting
The first sign that Sudan was on the brink of civil war was when bomb blasts erupted in Khartoum just after 9 a.m. local time on April 15. Canadian mining consultant Colin Crane could hear the explosions from his machine shop and immediately felt a sense of foreboding.
“I had never been scared in Sudan until then,” said Crane, 62, who recounted his ordeal to CTV News from his home in Edmonton after he was airlifted out of Sudan on the first Canadian Armed Forces flight.
He had worked in the northeastern African nation for more than two decades, searching for gold and oil, and was used to the loud protests that would periodically take over the capital—but the sound of machine gun fire that punctuated the air unnerved him.
Khartoum was falling into the grips of urban warfare as Sudan’s army battled the Rapid Support Force—a militia group—for control of the country. The streets of the capital city were ground zero in their fight.
As the first explosions were heard, Crane scrambled to collect his work equipment and rushed home. In his haste to get to the safety of his apartment, he left behind his Canadian passport.
Crane lived in the Jabra district of Khartoum. When he returned to his apartment, he heard shots being fired and heavily armed Sudanese government soldiers chasing security guards from his residence. Crane said he barricaded himself inside his apartment, purchased extra data on his cell phone and emailed the Canadian embassy in Khartoum for help.
“I’m currently sheltered in place…I would like to be informed if there is any evacuation planned for Canadian citizens,” Crane wrote in an email he provided to CTV News.
The next day, as artillery fire and airstrikes rained down on Khartoum—he moved to a hotel with more security and relied on his Sudanese co-workers to help him stock up on food and water.
Emails from Global Affairs Canada (GAC), that Crane shared with CTV News, showed the department provided little information to him, other than to confirm he was registered for alerts. Crane was advised to stay away from windows, ensure he had essential supplies and to keep his phone charged at all times.
While he waited for more details from GAC, power and water was cut off to the hotel, and the City Plaza shopping mall in his neighborhood was shelled.
“They blasted the mall using heavy artillery. It went on for about 16 hours,” he said.
Crane hid in his hotel bathroom during the blasts and took video of dark plumes of smoke rising from the mall. He worried that an errant bomb would take out his building, or that the security guards stationed in the lobby would be attacked by looters. African media was reporting that thousands of prisoners had escaped from incarceration. He watched as Indian nationals at his hotel boarded shuttles sent by their government to take them out of the city.
Then, 10 days after first connecting with GAC, an email arrived outlining vague plans for an evacuation, just after a tentative ceasefire was brokered.
The email from GAC’s SOS account on April 25 said to be prepared to leave on short notice and stated that only Canadians with valid passports would qualify for flights, but there were no guaranteed seats. At the time, Canada had not yet mounted its own evacuation flights and was relying on allies such as Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and France.
Canadians were also informed they had to find their own way to Wadi Seidna Air Base to get on rescue flights.
“Global Affairs Canada cannot advise or provide recommendations for safe transport …(and) cannot guarantee a spot on any specific flights since they are offered by allied/like minded countries.”
The email also came with a frank warning:
“The security situation is highly volatile. There are reports of looting of private homes. There are also reports of attacks and sexual assaults, including rape. Foreigners and staff of international organizations have been targeted,” the email read.
“It wasn’t very reassuring. It felt like we were left on our own,” said Crane. But fortunately for the consultant, his local contacts were willing to help, and even though the banks were closed, he had cash on hand.
After his driver retrieved his passport from his workplace, Crane tried to hire a taxi on April 26 to take him to the Wadi Sayyidna air base—but they were too scared to travel. So he flagged down a trucker and offered him US$400 to take him on the approximately 25 kilometre journey to the airfield. During the three hour ride, Crane said they passed through more than 20 checkpoints. He saw soldiers carrying Kalishnokovs, artillery mounted on the back of pick-up trucks and even tanks as they drove out of the ruined city.
“There were so many damaged cars and destroyed buildings,” said Crane. “There was so much destruction.”
Crane arrived at the airbase in time to spend a restless night in a hangar among hundreds of foreigners. He woke up at 5 a.m. the next morning, but was told that the only flights going out were reserved for British citizens. Later that morning on April 27, two Canadian Hercules transport planes landed. By noon, Crane was airlifted to Djibouti, where he and dozens of other passengers were greeted by Canada’s ambassador to Sudan. Eight hours later, they were transferred to a commercial flight to Nairobi, Kenya. From there, Crane purchased a flight to Edmonton through Denver, Colorado.
The Canadian government mounted a total of six evacuation flights out of Sudan and airlifted nearly 550 passengers. Approximately 175 were Canadian. GAC says more than 200 other citizens and permanent residents were brought out of the country on flights offered by allies.
The government has also provided $274,283 in financial assistance to 108 individuals to help them pay for flights to Canada from a safe third country.
Now safe at home, Crane says he believes the government did the best it could under extreme circumstances.
“I wish there was better communication, but the military did a hell of a job with the short time they had to coordinate flights. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes to land these flights,” said Crane.
The mining consultant says he wants to return to Sudan soon to continue his work, but in the interim he wants to raise money to assist the Sudanese nationals who helped him get to safety.