This article was published in i Newspaper on April 23rd, 2023.
One security adviser told i: 'There've been quite a few desperate people who are basically taking matters into their own hands. They're now scattered here, there and everywhere'
Civilians trying to flee Sudan are facing extortionate fees for lifts to escape and battling against bombardments, burning roadblocks and power outages as they desperately try to find a way out.
With conflict in Sudan’s capital of Khartoum escalating, Government agencies and private firms are scrambling to extract diplomats and evacuate citizens caught in the crossfire.
Two private security officials with deep ties in the country have told i that they are facing mounting challenges as they try to evacuate people from an environment that is growing increasingly hostile.
Dan Kaine, partner at security advisory firm Inherent Risk, said he has been assisting governments and co-ordinating 80 per cent of relocations, while also sending out supplies to people who are trapped in Khartoum, none of which has been an easy feat.
“Sometimes it’s just been the little wins,” he told i. “Sometimes it’s just getting a bottle of water to someone or some sickness medication to a building.”
Mr Kaine added: “There’ve been quite a few desperate people who are basically taking matters into their own hands. They’re now scattered here, there and everywhere and the embassies have got no idea where a vast majority of their people are.”
Around 4,000 British passport holders remain trapped in the war-torn country after fighting broke out between the Sudanese Armed Forces, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group, led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
The UK Government successfully evacuated diplomats from the city on Sunday, and two ships – RFA Cardigan Bay and HMS Lancaster – are being prepared to assist with an evacuation from Port Sudan, The Times reported. But ministers have warned that they could not guarantee the evacuation of all citizens.
Citizens and diplomats in Khartoum have spent almost a week trapped in the city under constant bombardment, with limited food and power supplies.
“There’s been a few things that are what I would call battle indicators,” Mr Kaine continued. “You’ve got people who are leaving en masse, you’ve got roadblocks that are being created, and you’ve got the burning tyres.”
He said tyre burning – a common tactic in warfare – was made popular by the Hollywood movie Blackhawk Down, and has been a major advancement in the conflict in Sudan.
“They do that essentially to stop the forces from the air seeing what they’re doing on the ground,” he said. “So that for me is a battle indicator of their expected forces to come in.”
Amid the chaos, regular power outages remain the main obstacle to evacuating people or even just delivering vital supplies. The city is experiencing regular power outages and signal is currently hard to come by.
With very few resources and only two employees on the ground, communication with potential evacuees has been a struggle. Mr Kaine has been organising “phone schedules” with citizens to agree times when they have their devices on.
However, as the battle intensified over the weekend, the lack of communication has made evacuations an even more daunting task. Trapped with no supplies against a backdrop of constant artillery fire, people have been attempting to self-evacuate.
The director of another private firm evacuating citizens out of the country, who asked to remain anonymous, said that being unable to communicate was the “worst problem” at the moment.
He said he has been making efforts to get satellite phones out to targets they want to extract from the battle.
“It really has been relying on a local network going up and down like a yo, yo… so we’re looking for other assets that we can use to make it more fluid.”
Both security advisers said there was a growing issue with opportunists hiking up prices and promising services that do not exist.
The anonymous private security official said: “People all of a sudden inflate prices because they know people will pay because they’re desperate. We understand you’ve got to make a profit, but you don’t need to make a killing.”
Mr Kaine said there was a problem with misinformation and that some organisations with stranded staff are being charged $25,000 (£20,000) per person by companies to evacuate them, only to find out that those people were eventually placed on buses arranged and paid for by NGOs.
“I think the problem is that there’s a lot of misinformation online,” he said. “There are quite a few companies saying, ‘we’re evacuating citizens, we have planes’ and it’s not true.”
The crisis has rocked the country and forced Western countries to move quickly to rescue diplomatic staff and civilians from the fighting.
The US is moving extra troops and equipment to a naval base in Djibouti, south-east of Sudan, to prepare for the possible evacuation of US embassy personnel while the international airport in Khartoum remains inoperable and Sudanese airspace is closed.
At least 400 people have died in the fighting with thousands more injured. The country’s infrastructure is crumbling, and the war’s victims litter the streets of Sudan’s capital. And the war is set to rage on as more and more private militia groups are folded into the fighting, making evacuation more necessary than ever.
“You’ve got people who were shot when they were evacuating, or they died on the way and they are literally still on hospital trolleys in the middle of the streets,” Mr Kaine told i. “That’s the reality of the situation, the situation is terrible.”