Perseverance of diplomats, compatriots under Five-Star Red Flag lead timely and safe evacuation of Chinese nationals in Khartoum amid fighting
Published: Apr 26, 2023 07:54 PM
Editor's Note: 

As the escalating conflict in Sudan has sparked a mass exodus of foreigners, hundreds of Chinese nationals in Khartoum fled the Sudanese capital on April 24, risking long and difficult journeys to escape continued street battles and gunfire that keep increasing the death toll.

With a series of cease-fires failing to hold, the confirmed death toll in Sudan has now surpassed 450, and more than 4,000 people were wounded as of April 26. 

With concerted efforts from all parties, most of the Chinese nationals in Sudan have been safely evacuated in batches and in an orderly manner to Sudan's border ports or neighboring countries, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry on April 25. 

The Global Times interviewed two witnesses who made it to the extraction points to flee the fighting in Sudan, with the careful support, resolute guidance, and unswerving efforts of the Chinese Embassy in Sudan.

In this series, the Global Times features first-hand accounts from witnesses who were at the forefront of historic moments. From scholars, politicians and diplomats to ordinary citizens, their authentic reflections on the impact of historical moments help reveal a sound future for humanity through the solid steps forward taken in the past and the present.

Chinese evacuating Sudan happily wave a national flag of China  on April 24, 2023. Photo: Courtesy of Xie Jiajun

Chinese evacuating Sudan happily wave a national flag of China on April 24, 2023. Photo: Courtesy of Xie Jiajun

The sounds of explosive gunfires from a heavy machine gun and rapid counterattacks ring in the air, shattering the tranquility of the morning along the Nile River in Khartoum. 

It was 5 am and the distinct "pop" sound had become a morning alarm clock in recent days for Xie Jiajun, a Chinese journalist working and living in Khartoum. 

On the day of evacuation, he quickly jumped out of bed fully dressed for easy evacuation, and quickly put on his helmet and bulletproof vest, ready to leave for the Chinese Embassy. 

The night on April 23 was a sleepless one for many Chinese nationals in Sudan, not only because of the occasional sounds of gunfire but also because of the exciting news of impending evacuations organized by the Chinese Embassy in Khartoum.

Over the next 24 hours, disheveled Chinese nationals rushed into the Chinese Embassy amid running gun battles, while some stepped over shards of glass shattered by stray bullets and hastily boarded evacuation vehicles, amid the sound of the roar of fighter jets overhead. 

For many Chinese nationals wishing to evacuate, scenes from the Sudanese capital are reminiscent of a scene from the box-office hit Home Coming, a Chinese movie that gained critical acclaim and tells the story of two unarmed Chinese diplomats navigating through a fictional war-torn African country to safely lead the repatriation of 125 Chinese citizens. But now, the story of Home Coming, the poster of which reads "The motherland will not abandon any compatriots," is playing out in real time in Sudan, right before Xie's eyes. 

What is an enduring constant both in the movie and on the ground in Khartoum is the Chinese people's strong sense of national pride and confidence amid a turbulent, ever-changing world.

A difficult journey

On the morning of April 24, at around 5 am, when Xie arrived at the evacuation point at the Chinese Embassy, he found that his fellow citizens who were waiting for evacuation had already formed a long queue. Ding Feng, the head of the evacuation team in charge of safety protocols, also the military attaché of the embassy, was already directing people to line up in an orderly manner.

"Ding, a veteran soldier, in his bulletproof vest and helmet, inspires a sense of trustworthiness," Xie recalled, noting that several of the embassy staffers had bloodshot eyes.

The Chinese Embassy's Chargé d'Affaires Zhang Xianghua told Xie that "one of the biggest challenges was the lack of information clarity caused by the ongoing conflicts. It was a top priority for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the embassy to find a foolproof evacuation route and destination from all available options, and ensure the safety of every Chinese citizen."

Just when everyone thought things would go smoothly, unexpected incidents would occur. The local shuttle bus drivers failed to show up, with some citing the ongoing conflicts, and some even raised fare prices. In the end, only one bus arrived instead of the originally booked number. Failure to evacuate the compatriots on that day would have posed a greater risk to their safety, Xie told the Global Times. 

He said that Zhang immediately set about to "find buses and drivers through all channels and at all costs, and send as many buses as possible to evacuate our compatriots today." 

Smoke rises in Khartoum, Sudan on April 19, 2023. Photo: VCG

Smoke rises in Khartoum, Sudan on April 19, 2023. Photo: VCG

"Waiting for the buses was the most difficult. On the day we organized the evacuation, gunshots could still be heard clearly around the embassy. The soldiers of the rapid support force drove pickups repeatedly past the evacuation team, and some compatriots even captured footage of fighter jets firing rockets at the ground. If our compatriots had not evacuated early, their gathering here would have been a huge safety hazard," Xie recalled. 

Xie told the Global Times that the long line of people waiting to evacuate - including the elderly, children, and the foreign relatives of Chinese nationals - filled out paperwork without a word of complaint. They also spontaneously appointed a leader for each bus for coordination and communication purposes. 

Volunteers pasted Chinese national flags on the cars and buses and acted as flag bearers, while others provided medical services, food, and water for the elderly and children. Some volunteers even used their own private cars as lead vehicles to escort the evacuation convoy, which impressed Xie the most. 

Thanks to the joint efforts of the Chinese Embassy, Chinese companies, and business associations, all Chinese citizens and their family members who arrived at the assembly point that day were all successfully evacuated. 

"But there are still tough challenges ahead. As more of our compatriots are evacuated, those who remain will become more scattered," Chargé d'Affaires Zhang said at the site. "However, the motherland will not abandon any of our compatriots. We will bring everyone home!" 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said on April 25 that the security situation in Sudan remains complex and challenging, stressing that the safety of the 1,000-plus overseas compatriots has been of utmost importance to the CPC Central Committee.

"The Chinese Foreign Ministry and Chinese embassies and consulates in Sudan and its neighboring countries have worked non-stop to make careful and thoughtful assessments of the situation on the ground to create conditions for the safe evacuation of our nationals in Sudan," said Mao. 

"When evacuating from danger, our diplomats will always be the last to leave. Meanwhile, the Chinese Foreign Ministry will also take effective action to ensure the safety of our embassy staff," the spokesperson noted.

A Chinese citizen surnamed Zhang who runs a hotel in Khartoum told the Global Times on April 25 that as far as he knew, more than 700 Chinese compatriots had been safely evacuated to a warm temporary transit shelter and the Chinese Embassy in Sudan had verified everyone's registration as of the afternoon on April 25, preparing for further evacuation.

"The arrangements made by the embassy were well organized and in a timely manner. The embassy staff accompanied us all the way to the transit shelter where food and good accommodation were provided and our basic needs were taken care of," he said. 

On April 22, the Chinese Embassy in Sudan released a notice to assess Chinese citizens' willingness to leave the country due to the sporadic clashes in Khartoum.

At 3:41 pm on April 24, Zhang shared a photo on his WeChat moments while waiting for an evacuation bus. He wrote on WeChat that thanks to the painstaking efforts made by "our strong motherland and the embassy," he had successfully boarded the bus.

People paste a national flag of China on the windshield of a bus before evacuating from Sudan on April 24, 2023. Photo: Courtesy of Xie Jiajun

People paste a national flag of China on the windshield of a bus before evacuating from Sudan on April 24, 2023. Photo: Courtesy of Xie Jiajun

Desperate wishes

Before the evacuation, dozens of Chinese citizens had been trapped in Zhang's hotel. They did not dare go outside so they only subsisted themselves on previously stockpiled supplies which were not sufficient.

At the same time, missiles were often heard flying over the hotel so they were in a constant state of nightmarish worry of an imminent strike and they were desperate to leave. 

"Exchanges of gunfire were taking place everywhere. We were only one or two kilometers away from the nearest insurgent point. There were also incidents of vandalism and looting. I heard that some Chinese people had been robbed by local people. Other foreigners in Sudan were all faced with these dangers," Zhang recalled. 

Talking about the dilemma at that time, Zhang said that there had been frequent telecommunication blackouts, and phone calls in many places cannot get through. 

Xie also told the Global Times that since the conflict broke out, power outages and internet disruptions have become commonplace. Sudan's power supply was already insufficient, and after the outbreak of armed conflict, gasoline and diesel became military-controlled materials, and the market supply was severely inadequate, causing increasing anxiety. 

Moreover, the scarcity of supplies has also led to heart-stopping moments for Xie, who narrowly escaped attempted robbery by gangs while purchasing supplies. 

As the situation in the war zone remains tense, many foreigners living in Khartoum have suffered threats to their lives and property damage due to stray bullets and scattered infantrymen. Media reports have also revealed that several UN agencies stationed in 

Sudan were caught in the crosshairs of the gun battles, and staff members have suffered varying degrees of injuries.

At noon on April 24 in Khartoum, the scorching sun and dust from a raging sandstorm filled the sky. Recalling the entire process of evacuating from Sudan, Xie felt that the Five-Starred Red Flag fluttering in front of him was particularly bright and eye-catching. Also on his mind were the Chinese diplomats, enterprises, business associations, and compatriots who showed their perseverance and deep belief in the strong motherland on such a perilous journey.