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Thursday 21 September 2023 Dublin: 12°C
Alamy Stock Photo A deserted avenue in Khartoum, Sudan, Tuesday, 18 April 18.
# Sudan
Operation to evacuate remaining Irish citizens from Sudan ongoing as fighting continues
Fifty Irish citizens have been evacuated with the support of France and Spain.

LAST UPDATE | Apr 24th 2023, 8:47 PM

FIFTY IRISH CITIZENS have been evacuated from war-torn Sudan since yesterday with the support of France and Spain.

However, the French Embassy, which has acted as a rallying point for people trying to leave Sudan, has announced that it is to close.

The French mission in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum will be shut “until further notice”, the French foreign affairs ministry today said.

Meanwhile, the UN secretary-general has today warned that the violence between warring parties in Sudan “could engulf the whole region and beyond.”

“We must all do everything within our power to pull Sudan back from the edge of the abyss,” Antonio Guterres said, calling again for a ceasefire.

The main airport in the capital Khartoum has been the site of heavy clashes, effectively shutting its operations. Fighting elsewhere has forced delays to some planned rescue operations.

Many countries unable to send forces into Sudan relied on others to extract their citizens via ports and military bases, with Saudi Arabia and France both evacuating numerous foreigners.

‘Fluid’ situation

Speaking this morning, Tánaiste Micheál Martin described the situation as “fluid” and said he estimates around 150 Irish citizens have registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs in Sudan.

On RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Martin confirmed that up to 12 Defence Forces personnel will be deployed, originally to Djibouti in East Africa.

Djibouti is a country that is around 1,600 kilometres to the east of Khartoum, the capital of Sudan.

In a statement to The Journal, a spokesperson for the Defence Forces confirmed that four members from the Defence Forces departed from Ireland yesterday evening.

They are part of the Emergency Civil Assistance Team (ECAT) and it is understood that they have landed in Djibouti, having travelled via commerical flights.

It is also understood that a small number of Foreign Affairs officials have travelled also. 

A further statement to The Journal from the Department of Foreign Affairs described the evacuation operation that is currently underway in Khartoum as “highly sensitive”.

“Given the volatile security situation on the ground, to protect that operation and the citizens involved, we are unable to provide further comment at this time,” added the Department spokesperson. 

Martin said the evacuation has to be done “in a safe way” and said citizens will be supported with accommodation in Djibouti and with transport home.

He urged citizens to stay indoors until there is further information and added that while he is “pleased” with the last 24 hours, it will take “days” to evacuate all Irish citizens.

Martin added that he will work with EU colleagues “in respect to the optimal deployment”. 

Martin also paid tribute to the work of the EU ambassador to Sudan, and Irish diplomat, Aidan O’Hara.

He was attacked at his home by a group of “armed men wearing military fatigues’ and Martin described his “resilience” as an “inspiration to all”. 

Martin described the situation in Sudan as “very worrying”, adding: “Up to 12 million people are suffering from acute food insecurity, millions dependent on humanitarian aid.

“There are significant international efforts being made to bring an end to the violence and to try and broker a ceasefire between the Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese army.”

The clashes are part of a power struggle between General Abdel-Fattah Burhan, commander of the Sudan armed forces, and General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, head of the Rapid Support Forces, a rival paramilitary group.

More than 420 people have been killed and thousands wounded, according to UN figures, amid fears of wider turmoil and a humanitarian disaster in one of the world’s poorest nations.

The Tánaiste is currently attending an EU Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg and prior to the meeting, he thanked Spain and France for their support. 

He added that “everything is being done” to facilitate the evacuation of Irish citizens from Sudan.

Vincent Guérend, the French Ambassador to Ireland, confirmed that a first French flight left the Sudanese capital of Khartoum yesterday and added that French authorities “are in close touch with our Irish colleagues on this delicate operation”. 

Independent TD Cathal Berry, a former Army Ranger Wing member, commended French troops in Khartoum for taking in some Irish citizens yesterday.

However, speaking to Morning Ireland, he added that “they have limited capacity”.

Berry said that Irish citizens who fled with the assistance of Spanish authorities were directed to the Spanish embassy and were able to get out of Sudan by a road convoy.

Spain’s government announced yesterday that it had flown out around one hundred people from war-hit Sudan, including 30 Spanish citizens and 70 others from Europe and Latin America.

A foreign ministry statement said a military aircraft had left Khartoum shortly before 11:00pm (9pm Irish time) and was bound for Djibouti.

Among the other nationalities flown out were people from Argentina, Colombia, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Poland, Mexico, Venezuela and from Sudan, the statement added.

The evacuation operation had passed off without incident, said the Spanish government, but it is not known how many Irish citizens were evacuated as part of this operation.

Fianna Fáil MEP Barry Andrews meanwhile said it would be more accurate to say that Irish citizens have been evacuated “by” France and Spain, rather than “with the support of France and Spain”, as the Tánaiste said on Morning Ireland. 

“We continue to rely on the kindness of others as we have no capacity of our own,” said Andrews.


The “triple-lock” mechanism within the Irish army requires three levels of approval to send a certain number of Irish troops abroad.

Currently, there needs to be approval by the Government, approval by the Dáil, and a UN Resolution to mandate a mission sending more than 12 troops overseas.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Berry said he understood the first members of this 12-man Irish team had arrived in Djibouti, which is to the south of Sudan, this morning.

Berry said the operation would be a challenging one for the members of the evacuation team due to continuing violence on the ground and the unpredictable nature of the situation, which he said was headed towards “full civil war”.

He also warned that the team needed for the mission should be three times larger but noted that the triple-lock capped the number at 12.

However, Berry said “evacuation operations shouldn’t trigger the necessity for the triple locking mechanism”.

Speaking on Morning Ireland, the Tánaiste described the operation in Sudan as “essentially a humanitarian mission”, which means “we are not necessarily limited in terms of numbers”.

While Martin said “we can respond with greater numbers”, he added that the government depends upon and takes advice from other EU nations that have a military base in Sudan when deciding on how many troops to deploy. 

However, he acknowledged that “we do need to revisit” the triple-lock. 

“That’s why I’ve initiated a major national debate in June around all of these issues,” said Martin.

He added that the triple-lock and the “broader Irish foreign and security policy” needs to be re-visited “in respect of a changing world and changing threats”.

Berry said some of the 12 will provide medical supports, issue security communications back to Dublin, and ultimately “link up with Irish citizens on the ground and rescue them and bring them back to Djibouti”.

The Independent TD also claimed that it has been “normalised” for Ireland to lack air-lifting capacity.

“Ireland and only Malta are the only two countries (in the EU) that don’t have this airlift capacity.

“It’s been normalised in Ireland not to have this capacity, but it is absolutely not normal,” said Berry.

“Defence Forces have been very poorly resourced over the last number of decades and at times like this, these are days of reckoning when it comes home to roost this poor resourcing of Defence Forces over the last number of decades.”

While the Tánaiste acknowledged that air-lift capacity is important, he said the most important thing is “getting the team like our Defence Forces on the ground as quickly as possible”.

Ireland has ordered aircraft for operations like that in Sudan, but it is not expected to be in place until mid-2025. 


Abdullah, an Irish citizen who is a medical student studying in Khartoum, was one of those to have been evacuated so far.

His mother and sister visited Abdullah when the fighting broke out and they were also evacuated from the capital Khartoum last night.

Speaking to Morning Ireland, Abdullah said “tension” in Sudan has been increasing and that people realised how serious the situation was when airstrikes began.

He said he woke up to an email from the Irish Embassy over the weekend, advising him to seek out the French Embassy, which today announced that it is closed until further notice. 

He said when he arrived, “there were a bunch of other European nationalities there”.

Abdullah said he was “happy” with the level of communication from the Irish Embassy and noted that it is a “difficult situation” for them.

“They kept us in the loop and telling us what they were doing with their plans. They say they have very limited powers in Sudan, since they don’t have a diplomatic mission, but they still figured out a way to take us to safety.”

All Irish citizens in Sudan have been urged to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs through the embassy in Nairobi in Kenya.

They have also been advised to follow the Embassy of Ireland in Kenya on Twitter (@IrlEmbKenya) for updated advice.

Emergency missions 

The United States and European, Middle Eastern, African and Asian nations have launched emergency missions to bring to safety their embassy staff and Sudan-based citizens by road, air and sea.

US special forces swooped in with Chinook helicopters yesterday to rescue diplomats and their dependents, while Britain launched a similar rescue mission involving more than 1,000 military personnel.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said more than 1,000 of the bloc’s citizens had been taken out during a “long and intense weekend” involving missions by France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and other member nations.

The British military has evacuated embassy staff. British citizens still trapped in Sudan have been calling for help.

A minister who attended British Prime Minister’s emergency Cobra meeting said this evening that the UK government is “exploring every single option” to evacuate British citizens from Sudan. 

RFA Cardigan Bay and HMS Lancaster were being lined up as options to help people out of the region, where at least 2,000 UK citizens remain after British diplomats were removed.

A team of British troops were understood to have been flown into Port Sudan to scope out the options for any rescue mission of civilians.

UK Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell, who attended the Cobra meeting earlier today, said ministers would “bend every sinew” to help British citizens in the country if it was possible to do so.

But he warned a concrete plan had not yet been drawn up and urged UK nationals to stay indoors until they hear otherwise.

“What we have decided to do is to bend every sinew to make sure that if it is possible to do so we help evacuate our citizens, but I can’t tell you how we would do it, all I can tell you is we are exploring every single option,” he told Channel 4 News.

“The Foreign Office’s messaging has been absolutely consistent throughout. We have said that there is no current plan for evacuation and we are working on finding a plan.

“Our strong advice to British citizens is to stay indoors. It’s extremely dangerous out on the streets of Khartoum.

“If they wish to move because they have better information on the ground than we do in the Foreign Office then they may do so, but they do so at their own risk.”

The Norwegian ambassador said he and other Norwegian diplomats had also been evacuated, while Switzerland said 12 citizens had left with the help of other countries.

China today said it had “safely evacuated” a first group of citizens and would “try every means to protect the lives, properties and safety of 1,500 plus Chinese compatriots in Sudan”.

Meanwhile, the United Nations head of mission Volker Perthes will remain in Sudan despite heavy fighting.

While around 700 UN staff, aid workers, diplomats and their families had reached Port Sudan for evacuation, some personnel including Perthes “will remain in Sudan and will continue to work towards a resolution to the current crisis and returning to the UN mandated tasks,” said a UN statement.

‘Nowhere is safe’

The fighting broke out on 15 April between forces loyal to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy turned rival Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who commands the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

Daglo’s RSF emerged from the Janjaweed fighters whom former leader Omar al-Bashir unleashed in the Darfur region, where they were accused of war crimes including genocide.

The military toppled Bashir in April 2019 following mass citizen protests.

The two generals seized power in a 2021 coup, but later fell out in a bitter power struggle, most recently centred on the planned integration of the RSF into the regular army.

Multiple truces have been agreed in recent days, and ignored.

Khartoum’s airport, where the blackened hulls of destroyed aircraft lie on runways, is under the control of the RSF.

The conflict has left terrified civilians sheltering inside their homes, with power largely off amid sweltering heat and the internet out for most.

-With additional reporting from AFP and Press Association

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