A Canadian effort is underway to conduct airlifts out of Sudan and two military vessels have arrived off its coast, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday, as the government looked for a fragile ceasefire to help evacuation efforts in the embattled East African country.
Trudeau said the federal government is co-ordinating with its allies to get Canadian citizens out of Sudan, where fighting between the military and a rival paramilitary group erupted earlier this month, with hundreds killed and thousands more injured.
"It's an extremely difficult situation," Trudeau said. "There's very limited places where those airlifts can happen from."
One Canadian in Sudan, 29-year-old Waddaha Medani, said she made the trip to an airbase on the outskirts of the battle-torn capital of Khartoum Tuesday morning after she learned of an apparent evacuation flight.
She told The Canadian Press in messages exchanged Tuesday that she boarded a German plane set to depart for Jordan, where she was told she would then be able to get on a flight home to Ottawa.
Trudeau had said on Monday that 58 Canadians departed the country on a German flight and that a C-17 transport plane was in the region.
A spokesperson for the Defence Department said the frigate HMCS Montreal and the supply ship MV Asterix were re-tasked to the Red Sea to support the effort in Sudan, adding that the region was part of its sail plan.
A press release from March 26, when the vessels were deployed, says they were headed to the Indo-Pacific region as part of Operation Projection. It was heralded as the first deployment of an East Coast crew to the Indo-Pacific, part of Canada's plan to boost its presence there from two frigates to three.
A CH-148 Cyclone helicopter is part of the deployment on the frigate.
On Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said more than 100 Canadians had by then made it out of Sudan.
She thanked Germany, France, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia for "helping evacuate" the Canadians.
Global Affairs Canada said they were among 1,703 Canadians registered with the government and being contacted by federal authorities. Of that number, 573 people have asked for assistance, it said.
The federal government is also providing information to people who are attempting to leave the country on their own, Joly said, and safe passage for Canadians has already been negotiated with several other countries in the region, including Kenya, Ethiopia and Egypt.
While she said the situation was "still fragile," Joly said a three-day ceasefire announced Monday night was helping evacuation efforts.
"We are working on making sure that we do our own civilian evacuation, but we're not losing time. And we're making sure that this is happening as we speak," she said.
But fighting continued, despite the generals heading the Sudanese military and the rival Rapid Support Forces pledging Tuesday to observe the truce.
Explosions, gunfire and the roar of warplanes were heard around the capital region on Tuesday.
Residents reported escalating clashes in West Darfur province, where the RSF has its roots, born from the Janjaweed militias accused of widespread atrocities in putting down a rebellion in the early 2000s.
A number of short ceasefires over the past week have failed or brought only small breaks in the battles raging since April 15 between rival forces led by the country's two top generals.
While the lulls have led to evacuations of hundreds of foreigners, they have brought little relief to millions of Sudanese people who are struggling to find food, shelter and medical care in a country where a third of the population of 46 million already needed humanitarian aid.
Civilians are among the at least 459 people killed and 4,070 wounded since fighting began, the UN World Health Organization said, citing Sudan's health ministry.
Trudeau said he spoke with the chairperson of the African Union to offer Canada's support.
Defence Minister Anita Anand said Canada is trying to help anyone who is requesting assistance but called the situation "extremely volatile and extremely intense."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 25, 2023.
— With files from The Associated Press.