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Swiss embassy staff safely evacuated from Sudan

two men stand in front of a plane speaking to journalists
Swiss ambassador to Sudan, Christian Winter (left) and he Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis speak to the press at the Bern-Belp airport on Tuesday morning. © Keystone / Peter Schneider

Swiss embassy staff members and their families evacuated from Sudan have arrived safely in Switzerland, where they were received by Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis.

The Swiss embassy staff members who were evacuated from Sudan safely arrived back in Switzerland at 6:05 Tuesday morning. Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis personally welcomed the staff and their families at the Bern-Belp airport.

On Sunday, embassy staff and their families were first evacuated to Djibouti with the assistance of France. The International Red Cross also facilitated the evacuation of two additional personnel to Ethiopia, according to the Swiss foreign ministry.

Swiss ambassador to Sudan, Christian Winter, told journalists at the Bern-Belp airport on Tuesday that the logistical operation of the evacuation was challenging. The embassy staff had to first make their way to the French embassy, after which the group was uncertain where they would be evacuated to. Furthermore, the French authorities encountered difficulties in negotiating the use of the airbase in Sudan.

From the French embassy, the group was then placed in a bus convoy escorted by the Sudanese Rapid Support Forces (RTS), a paramilitary force formerly operated by the government of Sudan, and later a military tank to the airbase. From there, they were flown via Djibouti and Egypt to Switzerland. The entire journey took 17 and a half hours.

Swiss Foreign Minister, Ignazio Cassis, stated that around 30 Swiss or dual nationals who might want to be evacuated remain in Sudan. However, dual citizens were unable to be evacuated as they were not able to receive the appropriate exit permits.

Cassis also revealed that there is currently no diplomatic communication with the Sudanese government, and the Swiss embassy in Sudan shut down on Sunday following security concerns. Ambassador Winter does not have any further information from Sudan and does not yet know if he can continue his work from Switzerland.

Evacuation following rapid escalation of violence 

The Swiss foreign ministry said on Sunday night that seven staff and five companions had been evacuated for security reasons and “thanks to a collaboration with our partners”.

On Monday, an official confirmed that 10 of the evacuees had left for Djibouti with the help of France, while two went to Ethiopia helped by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Earlier indications that Italy had been involved in evacuating Swiss citizens was contradicted by the official, who nevertheless said the two countries were working closely together.

For Swiss citizens still in Sudan, a German military flight on Monday evening was a possible escape option, the official said, but it wasn’t sure how many places would be available.

Last week the ministry said that around 100 Swiss were in the country, though not all wanted to leave. It advises those who do want to get out to contact its helplineExternal link. By Monday, around 30 nationals had done this.

Difficult circumstances

“Work is ongoing to help Swiss nationals in Sudan as best as possible in difficult circumstances,” the ministry told SWI in a written statement. “Switzerland… is working closely with third countries and partners” to carry out evacuations of its nationals wherever possible.

Last week the ministry said that around 100 Swiss were in the country, though not all wanted to leave. It advises those who do want to get out to contact its helplineExternal link.

On Sunday, Italy said it had helped evacuate its own nationals, but also Swiss citizens and members of the embassy of the Holy See in Sudan. 

The two Sudan generals in power since their 2021 putsch have been engaged in a merciless war. The fighting is concentrated in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, and the western region of Darfur. More than 420 people have been killed and another 3,700 wounded, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

The Swiss embassy is located in a contested part of Khartoum. The Swiss ambassador’s residence was damaged during fighting last week, Swiss public broadcaster SRF reported.

No Swiss transport available

Swiss public broadcaster SRF says a tight-fisted parliament is to blame for Switzerland’s reliance on other countries to evacuate its nationals from danger zones.

Attempts to buy military transport planes for this purpose have been thwarted because they are costly to maintain and would only be used occasionally.

The last bid to find support for Swiss-owned aircraft was quashed by parliament last year, SRF reports.

* This article has been updated since an original version was published on April 23.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR