Abdelgadir Eltayeb and his family have no electricity, dwindling food and water, and haven't been able to venture far from the home in Khartoum where they took shelter after violence exploded in Sudan's capital this week. 

The Canadian, who is visiting relatives in Sudan with his wife and two children, says fighting between the country's army and its rival paramilitary force has unleashed chaos.

"It’s a very difficult situation," the 68-year-old said in a phone interview from Khartoum on Friday.

"We lived our worst night last night, and most of today. Shelling and dark smoke covered the sky." 

The situation in Sudan's capital was generally stable a week ago but a skirmish over a planned transition to democratic rule last Saturday escalated into raging battles. 

The violence so far has killed 413 people and wounded 3,551, according to the World Health Organization. 

Many have fled the country's capital for other parts of Sudan. Khartoum's airport is inaccessible.

On Friday night, the federal government announced that it had deployed members of its Global Affairs Standing Rapid Deployment Team to Djibouti due to the volatile and rapidly deteriorating situation in Sudan.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said Canada's embassy in Khartoum has temporarily suspended in-person operations.

Joly said the Rapid Deployment Team can provide emergency response, co-ordination, consular assistance and logistical support.

“The situation in Sudan is volatile and deteriorating rapidly," Joly said in a release. "Canada continues to call for an end to violence and stands with the Sudanese people as they strive for peace.

“We are actively monitoring the situation in Sudan and working with neighbouring countries, as well as with like-minded governments and the international community to co-ordinate the response to this crisis."

The government said the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces are also planning for contingencies but gave no further details.

On Thursday, Joly said there were currently no means of evacuating Canadians from Sudan and urged people there to shelter in place.

Global Affairs Canada said it knows of 1,663 Canadians registered as being in Sudan.

Eltayeb said shells have fallen mere blocks from the relative's home where he is taking shelter. The Edmonton resident and his family had a return flight to Canada booked for May 9 but that was changed by the airline this week to May 16, he said. 

He has extended family who live outside the capital, where there is less fighting, but many roads and bridges leaving Khartoum are blocked and the risk of encountering violence on the way out is too great, he said. 

"Most of the people killed were killed moving, trying to get out of Khartoum,” said Eltayeb, adding he and his family planned to stay in the capital for now. 

Eltayeb, who came to Canada from Sudan in 1989, has registered with Global Affairs Canada but said he hasn't heard from officials on ways Canada can support him. 

Hisham Idris, another Canadian visiting Khartoum, said he's trying to leave Sudan by crossing its land border into Egypt. He hoped to fly back to Canada from there. 

"It was hell. Some of the gunshots were falling around us," he said of the situation in Khartoum. "It's very very bad." 

Several hospitals in Khartoum have run out of supplies or been shut down. Banks have been closed and account holders have been unable to withdrawal funds. Canada's travel advisory warns that Sudan's telecommunication networks could break down without notice.

Zainab Doleeb, who was born in Sudan and moved to Canada as a child, said she's heard from extended family in Khartoum that civilians have been left to fend for themselves. 

"All the rescue indicatives, support and efforts to leave the city have been organized by (Khartoum) community members, civil society and family members," she said in Toronto. 

Doleeb said her cousins were trapped in a hospital before fleeing Khartoum's city core for the outskirts, where they are now trying to find ways to escape to the countryside. 

"Every time they develop a plan, they hear that this road has fighting in it or that this road is unsafe," she said. 

Canada should be open to receiving potential refugee claimants from Sudan, Doleeb said, adding there's a significant Sudanese diaspora that could support such newcomers. 

"There are many of us who just waiting to help and would be happy to host them," she said. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2023.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.