Sudan war: government says evacuation effort from warzone 'extremely successful', but UK mission not over yet
The armed forces have repatriated 2,197 from the Sudan war, according the UK government figures.
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The UK has finished evacuating Britons from Sudan in what the government calls an "extremely successful" effort, but Labour is urging it not to forget Sudan just because the airlift had ended.
The last evacuees, which include Sudanese doctors working for the NHS, landed in Cyprus on Monday, and be transported to the UK in the next 48 hours. According to UK Government figures, as of Tuesday, the number of people repatriated from the war-torn African nation by Britain’s armed forces stood at 2,300.
While the UK Government said it expected no more flights to leave following the bank holiday airlifts, Royal Navy warship HMS Lancaster will remain in the Red Sea to support any further evacuation efforts from Sudan. While Sudan’s warring generals have agreed to send representatives for negotiations, potentially in Saudi Arabia, the UN’s top official in the country said.
The UK government's much maligned response was the topic of hot debate in the House of Commons of Tuesday, with Labour saying the world’s gaze must not be allowed to turn away from Sudan now that the airlift has ended.
Asking an urgent question in the Commons, shadow international development secretary Preet Kaur Gill said: “We know that communications with British nationals have been patchy, that our evacuation started later than many of our allies, and that the government was slow to support British residents.”
“So far ministers have largely spoken about this crisis with regards to Brits stuck in the country, and rightly so. However, we have heard little about UK support for the Sudanese people themselves.” She asked if additional humanitarian support would be provided, and asked how the government would “crack down on illicit trade”.
“Does the minister share my concern that the turn away from Africa in British foreign and development policy has vacated space which malign actors have sought to exploit?" she asked. “It is right that the British Government’s first priority has been to secure the safety of as many UK nationals as possible, but we must not allow the world’s gaze to turn from Sudan once the airlifts have ended.”
The evacuation of Sudan “has been extremely successful”, Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell told the Commons. Responding to the Labour front bench, he said: “We of course had more citizens there to evacuate than the French and the Germans, who started evacuating their citizens before we did. But there was a crisis centre set up immediately in the Foreign Office.”
He added: “I would submit to the House that the evacuation has been extremely successful.” He also told MPs: “We will look very carefully at every decision that was made and make sure that everything possible is learned from it.”
Mitchell said: “We are able on humanitarian spend to exercise a bit of flexibility, as we always must. For example, I have announced last Thursday that next year we will spend £1,000 million, or allocate £1,000 million, to meet humanitarian difficulties and disasters.”
Several MPs also raised concerns over people seeking to flee Sudan, including an 11-month-old boy and a heavily pregnant woman. Labour’s Anna McMorrin said: “My constituent’s father is stuck in Sudan, he was refused at the airport after spending three days trying to get there and despite his wife and daughter with UK passports getting on the flight. Another constituent’s wife is also trapped there, alone, scared and six months pregnant.
“Both of them were in the process of getting their UK citizenship sorted out before this conflict happened. Now they’re running out of food and water and desperate as fighting is beginning again.” Conservative MP Nickie Aiken said: “I’m aware of a number of Westminster residents who are still stuck in Sudan, scattered across the country, not having been able to get to Khartoum to secure a passage on one of the flights out.”
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran urged the Home Office to apply “cool-headed common sense” to cases, explaining: “I beg the minister for help with two constituency cases I have.
“One is an 11-month-old boy, his father a constituent of mine, his mother is Sudanese. Quite understandably they don’t want to travel without being absolutely guaranteed that they’re all going to get on that flight together so they haven’t. Another is a two-year-old child, their mother is British, their father is Sudanese, and they all want to put in visas so they can travel together.”
The Foreign Secretary assured them the British mission in Sudan is “not over yet” despite the end of the evacuation airlift. James Cleverly said the situation remained dangerous and officials were still in Port Sudan to help Britons seeking to leave the country.
Cleverly told GB News: “There is still an ongoing humanitarian situation, we still have a presence at Port Sudan, both a military presence and a number of other government officials to help British nationals and their dependents leave the country.”
He added: “We will ensure that we maintain a presence to support British nationals, because the situation in Sudan, sadly, is still volatile, and it is still dangerous.”
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Sudan evacuation live
UK to begin evacuation today
Good morning, the UK is to begin evacuating British nationals from Sudan today after a three-day ceasefire was agreed, Claire Schofield reports.
Military flights will depart from an airfield outside the capital, Khartoum and priority will be given to the most vulnerable, including families with children, the elderly and people with medical conditions.
Cleverly told citizens not to travel there unless they are contacted and warned the ability to carry out evacuations could change at short notice during the “volatile” truce.
He said: “The UK government is co-ordinating an evacuation of British nationals from Sudan. We have started contacting nationals directly and providing routes for departure out of the country.”
Sunak: Britain will work to end the bloodshed
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Britain will work to “end the bloodshed” in Sudan and support a democratic government, Claire Schofield reports. He added: “The government has begun a large-scale evacuation of British passport holders from Sudan on RAF flights. Priority will be given to the most vulnerable, including families with children and the elderly.
“I pay tribute to the British Armed Forces, diplomats and Border Force staff carrying out this complex operation.”
Only British passport holders and family members with UK clearance will be eligible
Only British passport holders and immediate family members with existing UK entry clearance were being told they are eligible, Claire Schofield reports. Nationals have been warned that all travel within Sudan is “conducted at your own risk”.
The Foreign Office said other exit routes are being considered, with two British military ships – RFA Cardigan Bay and HMS Lancaster – being lined up for possible evacuations. A team of British troops is understood to have flown into Port Sudan to check out the options.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken announced that a three-day ceasefire had been brokered. It would extend a nominal truce over Ramadan that did little to stop fighting but did facilitate some evacuations.
Sudan situation 'precarious'
The UK’s former ambassador to Sudan has warned the situation in the country is “precarious”, Claire Schofield reports.
Sir Nicholas Kay told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think we have to underline that it’s precarious. The security situation can change very quickly. The command and control over forces isn’t complete.
“There is no trust between the two sides and things might kick off again. So, very difficult. The geography of Khartoum makes it also very difficult, and this is one of the challenges throughout. The river Nile joins, Blue Nile and White Nile, in the centre of Khartoum.
“So there’s a lot of bridges that need to be crossed to get around the city, and each of those bridges is controlled by one of the armed groups. So moving around Khartoum can be challenging.”
Concerns Sudan ceasefire may not hold
The Associated Press (AP) has spoken to people in Sudan who have suggested that the 72 hour ceasefire between the country's military and rival group Rapid Support Forces is not holding universally.
Amin Ishaq, a resident of Omdurman, a city across the Nile River from Khartoum, told AP there were clashes early on Tuesday (25 April) around the state television headquarters, as well as around military bases just outside Omdurman.
“They did not stop fighting,” he said. “They stop only when they run out of ammunition.”
Meanwhile, Atiya Abdalla Atiya, Secretary of the Doctors' Syndicate, told AP that "sounds of gunfire, explosions, and flying warplanes" are still being heard across Khartoum. “They don’t respect ceasefires," she said.
Airlift evacuation could begin in next few hours
A "well-placed source" has told the BBC that the airlifting of British nationals from a military base north of Khartoum is likely to begin in the next few hours.
According to the source, UK citizens are being told to "make your own way" to the airbase in a carefully "caveated" message. "It has got to be the individual’s decision," the message reportedly reads. "Once you get to the location, we will hopefully get you on a flight a soon as possible."
The source also told the BBC there was no sign that the warring parties were deliberately targeting foreign nationals. They said there was co-operation between foreign governments, rather than a "sharp-elbowed" approach to the evacuations.
Currently, British officials are looking at a 24 hour window for the airlifts - but that could be extended, depending on whether the new ceasefire holds.
James Cleverly defends government response
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has defended the government from allegations it has acted too slowly in starting evacuations of British nationals from Sudan.
Cleverly told broadcasters: “The circumstances for each individual nation are different. There are considerably more British nationals in Sudan than other countries have got.”
He also warned that the situation in Sudan remained volatile, despite the ceasefire: “This is an active conflict. The ceasefire has been announced but we know there have been pockets of violence even within previous ceasefires.
“So this does remain dangerous, this does remain difficult. We are providing what assistance we can and we are operating as quickly as we can.”
It is understood that Britons will need to make their own way to the airbase where the evacuation is being launched, without an escort.
British rescue plane lands in Sudan - reports
Sky News reports that a British C130 Hercules plane has landed at an airfield just outside Sudan's capital city Khartoum.
Reporter Alistair Bunkall, who was speaking to presenter Kay Burley from RAF Akrotiri, said he had been told it had landed just before 9.13am with another plane still in the air.
He added however: “That won’t be enough by a long way to extract the 4,000 British nationals if they want to get out."
The Guardian previously reported that a C130 Hercules can hold about 120 people.
How many British nationals are in Sudan?
According to one estimate, there could be up to 4,000 British nationals stranded in Sudan, my colleague Alex Nelson reports.
Alicia Kearns, the Tory chairwoman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I suspect that we are well over a thousand who wish to be evacuated. Sometimes these are large families. I suspect we could be looking at 3,000, 4,000 plus.”
British tourism in Sudan is relatively limited due to the country's political and security situation, and the UK government advises against all travel to certain areas of Sudan, and all but essential travel to the rest of the country.
However, for those who do choose to travel to Sudan, there are a few tourist attractions that may be of interest, such as the ancient pyramids at Meroe and the historic city of Khartoum, where visitors can see landmarks such as the confluence of the Blue and White Nile rivers and the Mahdi's Tomb.
It's worth noting that Sudan is not a mainstream tourist destination and does not have the same level of infrastructure and amenities as other popular tourist destinations.
As such, the majority of those British nationals currently stuck in Sudan will be those who have chosen to live in the country.
The reasons for emigrating to Sudan vary depending on the individual, but some common reasons include working for international organisations, such as the United Nations or non-governmental organisations (NGOs), or for British companies with operations in Sudan.
Some may also have family or personal connections to the country. In recent years, Sudan has also been a destination for aid workers and refugees fleeing conflict and instability in neighbouring countries.
RAF plane flying from Khartoum to Cyprus
An RAF C-130 transport carrier has been seen on flight trackers leaving an airbase north of the Sudanese capital, apparently ferrying evacuees to the UK’s Akrotiri airfield in Cyprus.
Around 2,000 citizens having registered with the Foreign Office to be evacuated.