Ahmad Shams speaks to Reuters at the Lebanese restaurant and hotel Assaha, following his repatriation back to Beirut, on April 26, 2023. Image Credit: REUTERS

BEIRUT: As Lebanese businessman Ahmad Shams sheltered in the hotel he ran in Khartoum from the gunfire and shelling that erupted there this month, it brought back flashbacks of the civil war that had shattered Lebanon’s capital in his youth.

“It’s the same picture there are militias, there are international interests. War is just as intense in Sudan as it was in Lebanon for us,” he said after returning to Beirut.

Shams, 59, who lived in Sudan for 17 years, had set up a hotel and restaurant in a prime location near Khartoum’s main airport and ministries. When fighting flared between Sudan’s army and a paramilitary force on April 15, those sites became targets.

He fled with his wife, 10-year-old son - even their cat - alongside other Lebanese, but he said they had to rely on evacuation help from the Saudi Arabian authorities not those of his native Lebanon, a nation facing its deepest economic and political crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war.

Returning to a country with its own crisis has not felt like a homecoming after so many years abroad.

“We’ve returned to a country that’s already collapsing. If there had been a choice to go somewhere else, I would not have come to Lebanon,” he said.

More than 60 Lebanese have been evacuated so far from Sudan, including some there briefly for business and others who had made Sudan their home.

“Now that I’m in Lebanon, I feel like I’m travelling to another country, like I’m in exile,” Shams said.