Photo: The first group of returning Christians are helped off the plane in Juba, South Sudan
A major operation by Barnabas Aid to rescue 2,000 Christian women and children trapped in Sudan got underway Sept. 19, with the first successful airlift to South Sudan, ASSIST News Service reports. After a number of practical and bureaucratic obstacles initially delayed the start of the rescue mission, the first of 12 chartered flights departed from Khartoum for Juba, with the rest scheduled for the days and weeks ahead. Church and community leaders have identified the most needy and vulnerable Christians among the hundreds of thousands of southerners trapped in Khartoum. "They will be welcomed at temporary reception facilities set up by the South Sudanese government before moving on to extended family connections around the country," a Barnabas Aid spokesperson said. "The church in South Sudan is ready to help with their practical needs." Christians of southern origin remaining in Sudan were stripped of their citizenship after South Sudan seceded, and were given a deadline to leave. President Omar al-Bashir has made it clear they are no longer welcome, repeatedly declaring his intention to make the country's next constitution 100 percent Islamic and strengthen sharia law. Many have made their own way to South Sudan, but the Sudanese government has closed the border to prevent any more traveling to South Sudan by the river Nile. The vulnerability of those still trapped has intensified over the last week as violent Islamic protests rocked Sudan, the spokesperson said. "As well as facing danger, the impoverished southern Christians have been living in dire conditions in makeshift shelters on the outskirts of the capital for many months."