Opinion: The U.S. should help civilians escaping Sudan’s violence — before it gets worse

The silhouette of a person with buildings and smoke in the background.
Smoke rises from fighting in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, on April 22.
(Marwan Ali / Associated Press)

Sudan has descended into chaos as rival military leaders fight for power in the East African nation. Since the violence broke out April 15 in Khartoum, the capital, hundreds have been killed. The U.S. Embassy was shut down after the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6 and the Army’s special forces evacuated American diplomatic staff. But thousands of other U.S. citizens are finding themselves stuck.

On Monday, U.S. officials announced a 72-hour cease-fire following talks, yet fighting has persisted in some areas and a previous cease-fire also fell apart within hours. There are reportedly an estimated 16,000 American citizens registered at the U.S. Embassy in Sudan. British and other European officials boasted of successful evacuations of their nationals. In a series of television appearances this week, National Security Council spokesman John F. Kirby said it’s hard to know exactly how many Americans are still in Sudan, but the “vast majority” are dual-nationals, who have “no intention of leaving or wanting to depart.” His advice? Shelter in place, “hunker down and stay safe.” Though the U.S. is helping some people travel by land, the situation is not secure enough to conduct a mass evacuation, he said.

Those I’ve spoken to in Sudan feel abandoned by the international community. Heavy weaponry including artillery, tanks and jet aircraft have been used in densely populated areas in Khartoum. Human rights and aid organizations have reported that civilians are bearing the brunt of the fighting. Food and fuel prices have soared, and there are power and water outages. Americans are among thousands rushing to Port Sudan along the Red Sea, where the U.S. says it has naval and intelligence assets, and to the Egyptian border to get out. As the U.S. and its partners negotiate with Sudan’s warring parties, there must also be a plan for protecting and helping civilians as the conflict, and resulting humanitarian crisis, worsen.


A close friend of mine, who holds a British passport, was on his way to Port Sudan on a bus — a treacherous nine-hour journey — with his relatives, including his 80-year-old mother and two young children. When he arrived at the port, he told me via text message, there were no evacuations happening for dual-nationals like him and his family, despite what the embassy had told him. Instead, they are all stranded with no information on when, or even if, they will be able to get out.

The fighting in Sudan comes after weeks of tension between the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary force, and the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) over security force reform during negotiations for a new transitional government. The RSF and SAF jointly overthrew Sudan’s transitional government in October 2021, after popular uprisings deposed longtime President Omar Bashir in 2019.

Another friend in Khartoum — whose house was looted by armed men and car stolen and who was threatened at gunpoint — fled with his family to the Egyptian border. Along with thousands of other Sudanese, they have waited for the last three days for Egyptian officials to process them. Amid the sound of crying babies, they wait on the hot concrete floor at the border crossing with no idea when their turn will come, and even whether they will be allowed entry to Egypt. One family was turned away because their child didn’t have the right paperwork.

These are people who left their homes and belongings overnight. And they are considered the lucky ones. For most people in Sudan, there are no good options — stay in your house and pray that it’s not bombed or raided, or try and get to a border and beg for entry. One Sudanese woman told me via phone she didn’t have her passport because it was at one of the embassies that had been shut down: “I applied for a visa weeks ago, it was being processed and now there isn’t even anyone to speak to at the embassy. They are all gone.”

There is no end in sight for the suffering of people in Sudan. The U.S. has faced criticism previously for leaving behind U.S. citizens in conflict zones, such as in 2015 when war erupted in Yemen, and during the American withdrawal of Afghanistan. In the last year, however, we have seen the international community react in a humane way in times of crisis, most recently in Ukraine when those escaping Russia’s aggression were flown out and welcomed in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere. This is not what is happening in Sudan.

There is no coordinated, forceful action by international governments or the United Nations, let alone a plan for those seeking asylum and making it across the borders — only statements of concern by officials. The U.N. and others should have robust setups at the refugee camps receiving those fleeing, and yet we see little movement. The lack of extensive U.S. media coverage of what is happening on the ground, or outrage at this attack on civilians in Africa, is saddening but unsurprising.


The next few days in Sudan are critical, and the window of opportunity for any safe evacuation is quickly closing. Governments worldwide, including the U.S., have a responsibility to help their citizens get to safety. But their responsibility does not end there as the humanitarian situation inside the country continues to deteriorate and U.N. agencies warn of imminent shortages in food, medicine and water.

Unless international assistance arrives soon, the rest of the Sudanese people, those who cannot afford the hundreds of dollars it now costs to get a bus to the border or don’t have foreign passports or visas will be trapped in a burgeoning war — with no way out.

Sherine Tadros is the deputy director of advocacy and U.N. representative for Amnesty International based in New York.