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International students among trapped in Sudan

Thousands of foreign students from Africa, Middle East and Asia have been left stranded across Sudan, as factional fighting has begun in the country.

Fighting broke out across Sudan on April 15. Photo: iStock

Authorities had made plans to evacuate an initial batch of 3,500 students 

It is thought at least 5,000 of them are Nigerian.

The fighting, which began on 15 April, has left students from Egypt, Nigeria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Chad, South Sudan and Somalia – among other countries – trapped in universities and cities like Khartoum.

Many have no basic provisions and are lacking means of communication.

With many of the students coming from low and middle income countries, few had been evacuated to safety by April 25, even as major world powers like the US, UK, Canada, Russia, Japan and the EU have begun airlifting citizens out of the war-torn country.

Authorities in Nigeria – the country with one of the highest number of students in Sudan – said they had made plans to evacuate an initial batch of 3,500 students stranded beginning April 25.

The country’s National Emergency Management Agency further disclosed that the group would be driven northwards to the Egyptian capital Cairo by bus, from where they will be flown home.

“In an attempt to evacuate, we should be mindful of the fact that we do not want to lose any life to it. But now that there’s a window, the government is exploring that window to get these people back to safety,” an official of the agency Onimode Bandele is quoted saying.

Earlier the government advised the students to disregard the National Association of Nigerian Students alleged plans to have the students escape the mayhem via Sudan’s southern neighbouring, Ethiopia.

A statement issued on Sunday by the Nigerian Embassy in Khartoum urged the students to remain calm and stay indoors, as preparations to move them out of Sudan were being finalised.

“We should be mindful of the fact that we do not want to lose any life”

“As the embassy had earlier informed students, you are requested to stay calm and remain indoors, while the mission is works on final approval to commence evacuation,” the statement said.

“It is still dangerous to embark on a journey toward the borders of Sudan without securing clearance and guarantee from Sudanese authorities.

“The embassy wishes to reassure the Nigerian students that their safety and wellbeing is of priority concern,” it added.

This decision was confirmed Abike Dabiri-Erewa, chairperson of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, who disclosed they had requested for a safe passage out of the country.

They affirmed to BBC Africa that evacuations would commence on Tuesday via Egypt.

On April 24, some 38 students – 19 from Kenya and 19 from Somalia – arrived in the Kenyan capital in a military aircraft. More airlifts were expected to get underway before the truce expired, according to Kenya’s Defence minister Aden Duale.

Some Middle Eastern countries were using Port Sudan on the Red Sea to rescue their nationals from the fighting.

72-hour truce declared is showing signs of holding despite incidents of sporadic gunfire. Different countries were expected to step up evacuation efforts by end of the ceasefire period by April 28.

According to London-based Arabic world education publication Al-Fanar, there were more than 15,000 international students from Arab countries alone enrolled in Sudanese universities in 2019.

“You are requested to stay calm and remain indoors”

Quoting the Non-Sudanese Student Welfare Organization, it said that the students were spread across 38 public universities and in over 100 private institutions in the country.

The largest number of foreign students from Arab countries – 7,000 – came from Somalia, which has experienced its own turmoil in recent years. Another 2,000 were from Yemen and another 1,200 students were from Egypt.

Power struggles and political turmoil that have plagued Sudan since 2019 has, at various points, led to some universities shutting down. This, coupled with poor economic conditions and escalating living costs, has seen a significant drop in the number of foreign students.

The fighting pits Sudan Armed Forces against the Rapid Support Forces, and has left over 400 people dead.

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