Scots diplomat left best friend's wedding to help those fleeing Sudan

Fraser McDougall ditched his wedding tartan for a bulletproof vest and was despatched to the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.

Scots diplomat left best friend’s wedding to help those fleeing Sudan Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office

A Scottish diplomat has told how he rushed to join the evacuation effort for Brits fleeing war-torn Sudan while at his best friend’s wedding.

Fraser McDougall, born in Glasgow, works for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

He received the call to deploy for the UK Government’s Rapid Deployment Team just minutes before he was set to deliver his best man speech at the wedding of his best friend Calum Clark his partner Siobhan Chien at Harelaw Farm, in Fenwick, Ayrshire.

The 28-year-old swapped his tartan wedding wear for a bulletproof vest and was despatched to the Sudanese capital Khartoum to help those fleeing the violence, which has killed approximately 800 people.

Some of those he supported included a young mother who had just given birth and a retired doctor who had suffered multiple gun shots.

He said: “I wasn’t actually on-call, but as it was such a big unfolding crisis, they needed all hands on deck, so I was asked if I could deploy to Sudan. So, it wasn’t just my best pal who said ‘I do’ on the day.

“The call came about ten minutes before I was due to give my speech. It slightly dampened my ability to party quite as hard as my wife and I had hoped because I now needed to get on the first flight the next morning.

Fraser McDougall despatched to the Sudanese capital Khartoum to help those fleeing the violence.Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office

“I didn’t let on to Calum until the following morning when I texted him to say ‘Brilliant wedding. Just so you know I left a bit early’.

“I hadn’t wanted to ruin his day, but to be fair he hadn’t actually noticed I’d left early. By that point he had had many whiskies, so my presence was insignificant by then, but I think my speech had gone down well.”

He added: “If I’d been on-call I wouldn’t have been drinking at all but I didn’t mind having to forego some of the merriment because I was really excited to get my first deployment.

“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 raged across Sudan.

“A lot of the diplomatic work we do is long-term and strategic, but this is something that has immediate tangible life-saving results – helping people escape a war zone.”

Fighting broke out in Sudan 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.

It is estimated that some 1.3 million people have been forced to flee in fear with humanitarian aid workers among those who have been killed.

Mr McDougall joined colleagues on the ground at Wadi Saeedna airfield near Khartoum.

He said: “It was almost like an outer body experience because the processing work is relatively straightforward, but you have all this drama going on around you – babies collapsing, people coming in with gunshot wounds, people just in utter trauma.

“You had to try and disconnect from what you were seeing and plough on because ultimately our task was to get as many people out as possible before the shaky ceasefire collapsed.

“Lots of the people I supported had gone through horrendous ordeals just to get to the airbase where we were evacuating from and had suffered shrapnel or gunshot wounds. You had people with clothes torn apart or covered in blood.

“An old, retired doctor arrived, and he had been shot in the thigh, the arm and his chest or shoulder. Our military guys operated on him there and then and tidied him up.

“His mood was surprisingly chipper but most people arriving were understandably in a state of absolute shock.

“I remember one young mum who had just given birth and her journey had involved having to hide under tables in abandoned restaurants and dodging gunfire. She was so stressed and exhausted, she almost dropped the newborn in front of us and caught him by the toe.”

Fraser revealed his only home comfort was watching episodes of BBC comedy hit Still Game to try and relax during his rest and recovery time.

The Scot spent five days on the ground during a fragile ceasefire between warring factions before the security situation deteriorated even further.

He said: “One night I slept on the runway and other nights you just crashed next to the people you’d been processing with.

“There was no such thing as going to bed. You’d grab a couple of hours here or there, but it was hard to switch off.

“You could hear gunfire and explosions in the distance. A Turkish plane coming into the airbase was shot at. I had my noise-cancelling air pods, which didn’t do a great job, but I had downloaded some episodes of Still Game and was playing it through my phone during rest periods.

“I’d lie down on the tarmac and watch Jack and Victor. That was my method of trying to shut off.”

Over £250m have been contributed by the UK Government to humanitarian support with a further £5m in aid now being put forward to support those affected by the violence.

Minister for development and Africa Andrew Mitchell last week announced £21.7m for Sudan as part of a wider £143m 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.

Mr McDougall – whose day job is working as 2nd Political Secretary at the UK Embassy in Dublin – said the experience happened so fast that he did not have time to feel afraid.

He said: “It sounds corny, but I genuinely didn’t have time to be scared. I didn’t really think about the risk until I was back home.

“When we landed at the airbase in Sudan, we were hit by a 45°C wall of heat and almost instantly the military secured the area and within an hour we were processing people as part of the evacuation. There was no time to lose.

“I’m not trying to be heroic, but I genuinely came to the conclusion if I was going to have an untimely end then I’d want it to happen while I was doing something my family could be proud of.

“Someone asked my wife how she’d felt about my deployment and said ‘He’s doing what he loves. He’s always wanted to do RDT. He would much rather go out like that than be hit by a bus crossing the road in Dublin’. “

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: “I’m incredibly proud of the vital work that people like Fraser 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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