Moray aid worker Liz Tait (64) tells heart-breaking story of woman leaving terminally-ill husband behind to escape war-torn Sudan
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A MORAY aid worker who supported Brits fleeing war-torn Sudan has told of her heartache for a woman forced to leave her terminally-ill husband behind.
British Red Cross volunteer Liz Tait, from Lossiemouth, provided psychosocial support after being deployed to Cyprus with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) when violence erupted in Sudan.
The 64-year-old, who is professional lead for clinical governance at NHS Grampian, was part of the UK Government’s successful operation to rescue more than 2450 people – the longest and largest evacuation by any Western nation.
Speaking for the first time, Liz told of the harrowing cases she had to deal with.
She said: “The intensity of the violence meant that people were describing the most terrifying journeys just to escape and many of them had gunshot wounds.
“The memory that sticks most in my mind was a lady, probably the same age as me, who had to leave her terminally-ill husband behind.
“They both held British passports, but he was certainly not well enough to make that journey. I think he was very much towards end-of-life and she was absolutely heart-broken because she knew she would never see him again.
“It must have been the worst of dilemmas, but the husband had very much wanted her to go. He wanted to die knowing that she had escaped to safety.”
Liz added: “I sat with her for some time talking to her about the memories she had of their life together and reassuring her that she had made the decision that brought most comfort to her husband. Her story will live with me forever.”
More than 600 people have been killed since 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 700,000 people are estimated to have been forced to flee in fear with humanitarian aid workers amongst those who have been killed.
Kilmarnock-born Liz added: “Many of the people I supported had been caught up in the violence and had literally had to run for their lives past rotting bodies in the street.
“People were describing very, very difficult journeys. There were stories of people having their cars taken from them at gunpoint.
“There was one person who had been travelling with her parents when they came under attack. They had all run for their lives, but they had no idea where her parents were. It had been too dangerous to go back and look for them. It was very distressing to hear.
“People had also been taken at gunpoint out of their houses and, as far as they are concerned, they will never see those properties or possessions ever again. But these people were still just glad to be safe.
“We supported unaccompanied children, including a very young toddler. The family had been in Egypt on holiday and the wee one had gone to stay with her Sudanese grandparents for a couple of weeks and ended up trapped.
"The fighting meant the dad could not fly in to pick her up as planned and the grandparents did not have a British passport. We worked with all the services to reunite her with her parents.”
Liz was first deployed through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to support people fleeing Beirut in 2006 and has since been involved with emergencies including the Chinese earthquake in 2008, the Tunisia terror attack in 2015, Hurricane Irma in Dominica in 2017 and the Afghanistan evacuation in 2021.
She has also been part of British Red Cross teams that have responded to the Manchester arena bombing, Grenfell Tower fire and Shoreham Air Show disaster.
Liz said: “It is fantastic that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office turn to the British Red Cross to offer this crucial expert support for people going through the most appalling situations.
“The British military did a tremendous job patching up the gunshot wounds and providing immediate medical care and our job is to try and help people start to deal with the psychological impact of the trauma they have been through.
“Just having someone there to discuss how they are feeling and letting them talk about their experience and acknowledging what they have been through and offering support can make such a massive difference to a person’s recovery.
“People that have been shot, were of the view ‘It’s sore, but I am alive’. I remember a lady on my first deployment supporting the Beirut evacuation in 2006 saying to me ‘There’s something wrong with my foot’.
"When I looked it turned out she had a big shard of glass embedded in her foot and she had actually been running on it for 12 hours and not noticed until she had been flown out to Cyprus.
“Because they have been running on adrenaline, peoples’ trauma and mental health issues will only really start to surface around 48-72 hours after they get back to the UK, which is why it’s important we signpost them to all the help that is available to them.”
Mother-of-three Liz relies on her family for support when she returns, although joked: “My husband always has flowers for me returning home, but I had to laugh because when I had my cereal in the morning, the milk was sour.
“The first time I was deployed in 2006, I remember my twins were only aged about eight and were very nervous, although it helped I was deployed to Cyprus because they’d been on holiday there.
“The only time I’ve ever felt personally very anxious was the Chinese earthquake because we were driving into the epicentre and I was scared of the many aftershocks.
“But thanks to technology, we are always able to reassure our loved ones we are safe. Even when I was living on a runway on a camp-bed for 10 days as part of the Hurricane Irma response, I was still able to get messages back home."
UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: “I’m incredibly proud of the vital work that the British Red Cross, and people like Liz 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.”