Successful evacuation operation completed – but challenges in Sudan remain
On Saturday 15 April, intense fighting erupted in Sudan. For the Government, taking quick action was of the utmost importance, and evacuation preparations began the same day. Following a successful evacuation, the Swedish Armed Forces operation has now been concluded, but the Ministry for Foreign Affairs is continuing to provide consular support to Swedes. At the same time, efforts are being intensified to find a solution to the conflict in Sudan and to avoid spillover effects in an already fragile region.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Tobias Billström comments on the situation.
The evacuation has just concluded, how would you describe it?
“The evacuation operation, consisting of three phases, has been conducted in very complicated conditions. The first phase was to safely evacuate posted Swedish embassy staff and their families as quickly as possible. A number of Swedish citizens were also evacuated during this phase. The focus during the second phase was on continuing to evacuate Swedes and other citizens by air. The third phase is now commencing, during which we will provide consular support to Swedes in Sudan in other ways.
During the now completed second phase, the Swedish Armed Forces provided Swedish aircraft from the Air Force for an air bridge between Djibouti and Khartoum. The operation was conducted in close cooperation with international partners. It was one of the quickest and most efficient military operations ever conducted by the Swedish Armed Forces, which makes it a unique operation that we can be proud of.
I would like to emphasise that an operation of this kind requires extremely intense diplomatic footwork to get everything in place and to then run smoothly. During the week or so that we have worked on this, Ministry staff and colleagues at several embassies put great effort into obtaining the necessary permits, gathering information and establishing collaboration. The Ministry’s Crisis Support Team was onsite to welcome the evacuees, and consular activities were conducted around the clock. It has been a fantastic and collective effort by a first-class professional foreign administration.”
What happens now?
“Although the Armed Forces’ mission has been completed, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs is continuing to provide consular support to Swedes who are still in Sudan. This is being done in various ways by both the Ministry and the Embassy, which has been temporarily relocated to Stockholm until it becomes possible to re-open the Embassy’s offices in Khartoum. Other countries are still maintaining an air bridge out of Khartoum and there are flights out of the country. However, how long this lasts and whether new opportunities to get out of Sudan are established is difficult to say. Our consular department is regularly informing Swedes in the country of the available options.”
What’s happening in Sudan now and what’s being done to stop the fighting?
“Sweden, together with a broad and unified international community, has condemned the fighting in Sudan and called for a ceasefire to allow the evacuation of civilians.
The EU is an important actor in Sudan, and its Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa is working together with other key international actors to find diplomatic solutions. She is in regular contact with the countries in the region and with the UN, the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and others. As holder of the Presidency of the Council of the EU, we are closely monitoring these efforts, which include supporting the peace efforts embarked on by the UN and the African sub-regional organisation IGAD.
Sweden is already involved in Sudan’s democratisation process and is part of a group of like-minded countries that has regularly coordinated its messages so that the political signals sent are clear. We have supported Sudan’s political reform process to enable putting a civilian government in place. After the immediate crisis has been managed, it is important that the international community continues to support the necessary reforms in Sudan so that the root causes of the conflict can be addressed.”
What are the risks of the conflict spreading to Sudan’s neighbours?
“Developments in Sudan are a cause for concern from a regional perspective. The Horn of Africa is characterised by political instability, humanitarian crises and conflicts, making it a vulnerable region. It is therefore important that every effort is made to bring a quick end to the conflict in Sudan and to prevent more people in the region from being affected by the negative consequences of the conflict.”
What significance does Sudan and the Horn of Africa have for the EU and for Sweden?
“The Horn of Africa is an important region for Sweden and the EU. Sweden has comprehensive engagement in the region with long historical and people-to-people ties. The Horn of Africa is one of the world’s most vulnerable regions with widespread poverty, climate impacts and recurrent humanitarian crises. The effects of this also affect us. It is currently experiencing the most severe drought in a decade, which has an impact on the entire region. Swedish development cooperation is used to strengthen these countries’ resilience-building efforts. Sweden also provides extensive humanitarian support to the Horn of Africa.”