Islamabad, Pakistan – On April 21, as the conflict in Sudan entered the sixth day, more than 1,500 Pakistanis got a message from their embassy in the capital, Khartoum: “Come to the embassy compound if you want to be taken back to Pakistan.”
Braving rockets, incessant shelling and violence in the streets, Irfan Khan, a 35-year-old Pakistani, volunteered to drive some other fellow nationals to the embassy.
But Khan himself does not want to leave Sudan where the fighting between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has killed hundreds and forced thousands to hide in their homes and thousands more to flee the country.
“As I drove about 10-12km [6-7 miles], the streets were strewn with bodies, smoke billowing from tyres, and spent shells were all around us. It was a very tense drive, and we were stopped more than six times by both the government army as well as the rebel faction as they asked for our identification,” Khan told Al Jazeera through telephone.
“Thankfully, after nearly an hour, I managed to drop off the people.”
“I will stay back,” said Khan, who runs an optics shop in Khartoum. “I have my business, my friends, my network. Yes, things are bad at the moment but they will get better tomorrow. Or maybe day after.”
Khan, who moved to Sudan 14 years ago following his older brother, says he feels more at home in Khartoum than in Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan.
“Even though my brother moved back, I chose to live here. This country and its people are amazing,” he told Al Jazeera.
“When the fighting started, it was honestly very scary. But the more I talked to my friends here and stepped out myself in the last few days, I felt my fear dissipating. Even if I somehow go back to Pakistan, what is the guarantee I will be able to return? I would rather continue living here and look after my business.”
His wife and son as well as his parents in Karachi have urged him to return, but he insists he will stay.
“I have told them not to worry. I have enough savings and resources to last me more than six months. I am not saying things are all smooth here, but my assessment is that things will get better in the coming days.”
Third batch of 97 Pakistani nationals from Port Sudan has arrived at JIA, Karachi via Jeddah aboard PAF aircraft C-130. Government of Pakistan will continue to facilitate the safe return of stranded Pakistanis. pic.twitter.com/leTuhqq30Q
— Spokesperson 🇵🇰 MoFA (@ForeignOfficePk) April 29, 2023
As of Sunday, more than 350 Pakistanis had left Sudan in three batches, according to the South Asian country’s foreign ministry, with another 500 or so waiting to be brought home.
However, despite the tense fighting on the Sudanese streets, there are Pakistanis, like Khan, who say they will stay.
Jamil Hussain, a 40-year-old who runs a garment shop, says he is staying because he was not able to get his whole family out of harm’s way.
Hussain, who arrived in Khartoum in 2009, married a Sudanese woman in 2011.
They now have three sons and a daughter but when the fighting broke out and he tried to take his family to Pakistan, the embassy told him that would not be possible.
“I asked the embassy, but I was informed that it would be complicated as they are Sudanese nationals … only I could go back, not my family,” Hussain said.
“I don’t mind suffering losses in business here. But to leave my family, my children, behind and not know[ing] when I will be able to be back, I decided against moving.”