(OTTAWA) The repatriation operation for Canadians stranded in Sudan gets under way amid a ceasefire: a Canadian C-17 plane is in the area and was waiting Monday evening for an order to take off. Already, 58 Canadians have been extricated aboard a German aircraft, but the mission promises to be anything but simple, warns a former Canadian diplomat who has worked in Sudan and South Sudan.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Monday that a German plane took off from the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, with 58 Canadian citizens on board. He revealed the information at the Berlin Embassy in Ottawa, before a dinner with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is visiting Canada.

He also reported that other people should be rescued soon. “We also have a C-17 in the area, and we will also provide airlift,” he said, without giving further details.

There are 1,439 Canadians registered in Sudan as of April 24, according to data provided Monday by Ottawa, but there could be more. Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly assured Monday that “departure assistance” options would be implemented “as soon as conditions allow”.

Conditions that could just improve if the warring armed factions respect the 72-hour ceasefire which will come into effect at midnight on Monday, opening a possible corridor for foreigners who wish to leave the country, fingers crossed the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“We hope it holds up. It would be very helpful for the safety of everyone in the region, of course,” Canadian Minister of National Defense Anita Anand said after an appearance before a Senate committee on Monday.

Escaping the vast country by land or across the Red Sea isn’t easy, while airports are “highly strategic” targets, says Nicholas Coghlan, who was Canada’s first diplomatic chief-in-residence. in the Sudanese capital, from 2000 to 2003.

“The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) have air capabilities that the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) do not have. If you are the commander of the FSR, what do you do? Take control of all airfields. That’s the number one issue,” he believes.

One thing is certain, an operation of this scale, in the Sudanese powder keg, is “very complex”, insists the one who was also the first Canadian ambassador in residence to Canada in Juba, South Sudan, when the civil war broke out. burst, in 2013.

“There were 17 Canadian citizens on the registry,” he recalls. We evacuated 150 in the first week. »

While the premises of the Ottawa embassy in Khartoum have been deserted, the government is counting on the registration of its nationals in the register of Canadians abroad, as well as on collaborations with countries such as Egypt, Kenya and the United Arab Emirates.

Minister Joly will also meet with her counterpart in Djibouti, where Canada has deployed members of the Permanent Rapid Deployment Team (PRDT) in recent days, and where the largest military bases of the United States are located. States and France on the African continent.

Countries preparing repatriation plans for their citizens face serious obstacles on the ground. The British government, which had come under heavy criticism for its handling of the chaotic departure from Afghanistan in 2021, is being closely watched by the opposition.

The Canadian government has also had its share of difficulties in this regard. In Ottawa on Monday during question period, the Liberals were only asked once about the situation in Sudan. But on Twitter, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner has already leveled criticism at the government.

“After the botched evacuation from Afghanistan, the Liberals were supposed to come up with a plan to make sure the same scenario never happened again. It turns out that plan seems to be to pray that nothing happens. Canadians stranded in Sudan are suffering because of this failure,” she lamented.

There is, however, a “major difference”: unlike the Taliban government, armed groups in Sudan do not have the objective of chasing the West, specifies Nicholas Coghlan: “They are violent, brutal, but the West is not not the enemy”.

The Canadian Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Sean Fraser, has also announced that measures will be adopted to ensure that Sudanese nationals will be able to apply for an extension of their status in Canada free of charge and to change their category. temporary.

Canada will also waive passport and permanent resident travel document fees for Canadian citizens and permanent residents in Sudan who wish to depart, it said in a statement.