As the UK government begins evacuating British citizens from Sudan, many have made their own way out to safety.
Hotels across Djibouti have become places of refuge for those fleeing devastation and bloodshed in the Sudanese capital Khartoum.
Hundreds of people have been evacuated and brought here by international rescue missions. A sleepy port city turned global military base and now a gateway for those scrambling to long-term safety.
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In just one building in the centre of town are dozens of Irish citizens and their immediate family members – the last place I was expecting to see a friend from Khartoum, NHS doctor Iman Abugarja.
Like others in the lobby, her eyes were round with disbelief and red from tears. When we embraced, her head shook from side to side. “No, no, no,” her head signalled. A rejection of the horrifying reality.
Dr Iman Abugarja is a British citizen and was able to leave Khartoum by sheer perseverance.
Her son is an Irish national and received a note from the embassy that an evacuation mission was under way.
When she arrived with him and her 17-year-old daughter at the embassy where the European Union effort was being organised – an extremely hard-hit area in Khartoum – an injured man was being taken into safety on a mattress.
Image: Dr Iman Abugarja and her daughter Sarah and son have fled Sudan She offered her help as a doctor and was ushered in by the security guard. Once she was in the building, the head of the mission welcomed her on board the flight in a gesture of generosity.
“They took me in to meet the consul and I said: ‘I’m British – I am not EU.’ He said: ‘No, you’re still in the European Union’, which I thought was very, very kind,” says Dr Abugarja with a watery smile.
“But I couldn’t go out again to say goodbye to my mother or my sister,” she added.
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Streets of Khartoum are devastated Dr Abugarja had to face an unthinkable decision: to stay with her elderly, sick parents or get her children to safety.
The agony of the choice hangs between her brows and the corners of her mouth.
She is riddled with worry and guilt as another US-brokered ceasefire fails to end the violence in her hometown where her closest family remain.
“My 96-year-old grandmother is also with my parents there,” she says. “These are the people we have left behind – the most vulnerable – and it is just heartbreaking.”
‘People are still trapped’
Her 17-year-old daughter is also feeling the cost of her own survival.
“Honesty, I feel really really guilty. Leaving my grandparents there is really hard,” says Sarah, holding her mother’s hand. She was planning to go to medical school in Khartoum next year.
“Sarah was saying last night that she feels bad because it almost seems as if it was too easy for us. People are still trapped, exposed to missiles and bombs,” says Dr Abugarja.
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She has plans to head back to Khartoum to retrieve her parents if plans to evacuate her family fail.
She says her elderly father would rather die in his home than live his life abroad as a refugee.
Dr Abugarja adds: “When they do get out we need to ensure they can live in a dignified manner. That they have shelter, food and drink and their medical needs are taken care of – and that is very, very difficult.”