Sudan conflict: Kiwis trapped in Khartoum describe harrowing four-day-long evacuation

Michelle Simpson, one of the 11 New Zealanders in war-stricken Sudan, has made it out safely and was evacuated to Egypt thanks to her employer. 

Michelle and her South African husband Paul Healy have been in Sudan's capital Khartoum since August last year, working as teachers at an international school. 

When violence erupted in the country two weeks ago, the pair were forced to shelter in their apartment, rationing food and water, while they searched for a way to evacuate safely. 

After 10 days of waiting and listening to the sounds of bombs and gunfire, Simpson and Healy finally got the lifeline they had been hoping for. 

"We got a call that basically said, 'Be at this appointed spot in one hour', and then we were running around the house like headless chickens saying, 'Let's go', because there were 40 spots on the bus, only 40, so you want to be there," Simpson said. 

Fifty-four people, including Simpson and Healy, turned up at the bus that was organised by the British-Sudanese owner of the international school the couple had been teaching at.   

Two buses took them all in a convoy, with some of the extra passengers sitting in the aisles. 

Young children were among those on board. 

"The New Zealand Embassy had no plans to do anything, the Australians no, they said we're all linked to the UK embassy, they were silent, nothing, not a word about helping their citizens, so we were like right, no one is helping us, we have to help ourselves."

But getting on board a bus was just the beginning.

The journey to the Egyptian border normally takes around 20 hours, but their trip took 72. The driver took back roads to avoid the conflict.

The group was also slowed by passport checks at military stops, with the first few operated by the paramilitary group, the Rapid Support Forces. 

"They were quite aggressive, they had their guns, and they were just hanging like toys," Simpson said.  

"They were looking at people and then they had to show their passport."

Even when the convoy made it out of Khartoum, there were new threats. 

The bus travelled through an area where they had to pay a bribe of cash to an unknown group who promised a guarantee of secure passage in return. 

Eventually, the evacuees arrived at a safe house where they spent the night with more than 100 others, before waiting for a full day at the border to be allowed into Egypt on a ferry. 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) said, including Simpson, eight New Zealanders have now been evacuated from Sudan. 

The other seven were flown out by Germany and France, who provided space on evacuation aircraft. 

Simpson and Healy said the New Zealand Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, had told them about possible flights they could try to get on, but said it was too short notice to get to the airport and they would have had to navigate their way, alone, out of central Khartoum, an active war zone.

"I think there's something to be said for embassies or governments taking another look at how they help people in these kinds of situations." 

Despite now only having a backpack worth of belongings, the pair said they are lucky and they feel for the Sudanese people who can't get to safety. 

"I've never been as scared as what we've been through," said Healy. 

"That will take time. Today, we're exhausted now because our bodies have realised, okay, we're in a space where we're not afraid anymore, but what does that look like now because it doesn't look like it did before, because we now know things we didn't know before," Simpson said.  

MFAT said in recent days it has become aware of three other New Zealanders in Sudan that it is now in touch with. The Ministry is encouraging any other New Zealanders in Sudan to register on SafeTravel.