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Sunday, February 25, 2024

Diplomat From Inverness Spearheaded Rescue From War-Torn Sudan

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A Scots diplomat who supported Brits fleeing war-torn Sudan has told of her heartache for a woman who watched her mother killed.

Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) official Grace Chun was part of the UK Government’s successful operation to rescue more than 2,450 people – the longest and largest evacuation by any Western nation.

The 56-year-old from Inverness led the UK Government’s Rapid Deployment Team sent to Cyprus to help people evacuated after violence erupted in Sudan.

Speaking for the first time, mum-of-two Grace recalled the harrowing cases she had to deal with.

She said:

“I feel proud to have been part of the longest and largest evacuation of any Western country.

“At the end of the day, we got over 2,400 people out, so we will have undoubtedly saved lives as the fighting continues to rage across Sudan.

“My most heart-breaking memory is supporting one woman who had seen her mother killed in front of her and been sexually assaulted.

“She was understandably scared of all the people in uniform, which is totally natural.

“We had a woman supporting her at all times and helped her feel less afraid by treating her with kindness and reassuring her that she was safe.

“We’ve certainly sign-posted her to the specialist support that she will need now that she is safe back in the UK.”

More than 800 people have been killed since brutal fighting broke out on April 15 between Sudan’s military, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, led by General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo.

More than 1.3million people are estimated to have been forced to flee in fear with humanitarian aid workers amongst those who have been killed.

The UK Government contributed more than £250million in humanitarian support to Sudan over the past five years and has just committed a further £5million of lifesaving aid to help those displaced from their homes by the violence.

Minister for Development and Africa Andrew Mitchell last week announced a further £21.7million for Sudan as part of a wider £143million aid package to help countries in East Africa impacted by more frequent and more severe weather events.  

UK Rapid Deployment Teams were sent to Khartoum, Port Sudan, Cyprus and Saudi Arabian city Jeddah to support British nationals needing help.

Grace added:

“Lots of people arriving had been caught up in the violence and had had traumatic experiences.

“There were people coming in who had gunshot wounds or ill and infirm.

“The Cypriots had a doctor on hand 24/7 so that if anyone came in needing wounds treated or any kind of injury or illness, they were dealt with right away.

“Everybody had quite a harrowing story to tell.

“There were people who said they were hiding for days before they could make an attempt to escape.

“They were just so grateful to be safe.

“We had a mum who had a baby, born by caesarean, who was just days old, and from a human perspective you cannot imagine what strength and bravery it took to get from Sudan to Cyprus under those kind of circumstances.

“There were other mums with babies who were ill, quiet and withdrawn. 

“The difference in these children after a night of treatment and being rehydrated was amazing.

“They looked like different people and it was just really heartening.”

Grace, who was born in St Andrews, Fife, but now lives in Inverness, has worked for the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office for over 30 years.

Until recently, she was posted in Mexico and helped lead Rapid Deployment Team operations including rescuing Brits from various tropical storms, the Thomas Cook travel firm collapse and the crisis when hundreds were left stranded on a Fred Olsen cruise ship after a Covid outbreak in 2020.

She was also involved in the 2015 evacuation of Brits from neighbouring South Sudan.

She said:

“Having been involved in the evacuation from Juba in 2015, it was very sad to see us having to carry out another evacuation from that region.

“I was right at the heart of that one on the ground in Juba.

“I remember flying in and us evacuating a whole bunch of people.

“Then we went back in the next day and evacuated more.

“It’s scary describing it, but at the time you know you’ve got a job to do and you just go into humanitarian support mode and think ‘Right, let’s get these people to safety’ and that is your focus.

“It is very rewarding when you get people out.”

She added:

“It was amazing to witness military, Home Office, FCDO, the police and partners like the British Red Cross and personnel from other countries, especially the Cypriot authorities, all pulling together in one common goal.

“I feel proud to have been part of the longest and largest evacuation of any Western country.

“At the end of the day, we got over 2,400 people out, so we will have undoubtedly saved lives as the fighting continues to rage across Sudan.”

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: 

“I’m incredibly proud of the vital work that people like Grace are doing to help the most vulnerable in response to humanitarian crises around the globe – often in very challenging circumstances.

“People from across the UK have been at the very heart of our efforts to help people fleeing Sudan in their hour of need, and I am grateful for their tireless service and dedication.

“The UK has coordinated the longest and largest evacuation of any Western country and brought 2450 people to safety from Sudan.  

“Our priority now is to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches those who need it and to continue to press for a long-term ceasefire.”

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