Sudan war latest: Britons trapped in conflict feel ‘abandoned’ as UK government urged to plan evacuation
The UK Foreign Office has said it will do “everything it can” to ensure the safety of British nationals trapped in Sudan.
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British nationals trapped in Sudan have said they feel “abandoned” by the UK government amid warnings that help will be “severely limited” until a ceasefire is reached, as debate on what the government needs to do rages in the House of Commons.
Clashes between Sudan’s army and a powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces broke out just over a week ago, with deadly shooting and shelling being seen in the capital, Khartoum. More than 400 people have died in the bloody conflict, with thousands of others injured.
As the internal violence continued to escalate, the UK’s armed forces launched a dangerous operation to evacuate British diplomats and their families from the country in Africa. On Sunday (23 April), Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hailed the “bravery” of the military personel who carried out the night-time mission, and also thanked Egypt – which shares a land border with Sudan - for its help with the evacuation.
However, the government has faced questions over why as many as 4,000 other Brits living in the country had been left behind, with some of those still stranded saying they feel “abandoned” by ministers.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly explained that there were “specific threats and violence directed towards diplomats” which led to the decision to urgently rescue staff. The MP insisted that the government remains “absolutely committed to supporting” British citizens in Sudan, but said that without an end to the fighting, ministers are “severely limited in their ability to provide assistance to nationals” - with a wider evacuation not yet possible.
However, Sky News reported late on Monday (24 April) that a British Army team have flown into a port in Sudan on a reconnaissance mission, as the UK works out options to help evacuate British nationals. It was reported that soldiers landed at Port Sudan on the Red Sea, with flight tracking websites showing a C-17 transport aircraft heading in the direction of Sudan.
But, the broadcaster added, this does necessarily not mean any evacuation is imminent, as the government is still working out what the best options are, and how risky any potential rescue from Khartoum would be - even as MPs acknowledge British citizens trapped in the war-torn country are running out of food.
‘Abandoned by the government’
UK nationals stranded inside Sudan have been advised to register their presence with the Foreign Office, and in the meantime, shelter indoors and await further information and advice. Some of those trapped have said are were looking into organising private evacuations, with the prospect of help looking unlikely.
William, a UK citizen living in Sudan, told the BBC he was forced to “go private” and leave the country’s capital, Khartoum, on a bus arranged by his Sudanese employer because “we’ve had absolutely nothing but nonsense from the government”.
Rozan Ahmed, a British-Sudanese woman who has been stuck in Khartoum since travelling to Sudan to attend her cousin’s funeral nine days ago, said there has been no communication from the British Embassy about evacuation plans. “I have been hiding under my bed for the last six hours,” she told Sky News. “The area where I’m staying has been shelled to shreds.
“This has been the most harrowing experience of my life and my only focus right now is to get to my mother, who is probably more pained than I am, and I need to understand why we are still here.”
Iman Abugarga, a British woman who has been sheltering in Khartoum, said she feels “absolutely” abandoned by the British Government. She told The Telegraph: “It is shameful how they have mismanaged this situation.”
‘We will do everything we can’
Meanwhile, Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell has stressed that the government is doing “everything” it can to ensure the safety of Brits in Sudan.
He told the Commons on Monday (24 April): “[Labour] asked me about the British nationals who are trapped in Khartoum and more widely in Sudan. And I can tell her that we are looking at every single possible option for extracting them.”
On why UK diplomats were evacuated, he said “that was because we believe they were in extreme danger”, before adding: “She asked about the destruction of material, I can tell her that there was time for all the normal procedures to be adopted in that respect.”
On the comparison with Afghanistan and whether the Government had learned any lessons, Mitchell said: “We most certainly have learned lessons from Afghanistan and the position in Sudan is completely different. First of all, in Afghanistan there were troops on the ground. British troops on the ground. There are no British troops on the ground in Khartoum in Sudan.
“In Afghanistan, the airport was open and working. The airport in Khartoum is out of action entirely," he continued. “Thirdly, there was in Afghanistan a permissive environment and so we had the permission of the Taliban to take people out. There is no such permissive environment at all in Sudan and in the capital city.”
Mitchell also told the Commons there was “very little food getting in to Khartoum”. He said: “The amount of humanitarian relief that is getting in, enormously needed, but because the human workers have been attacked, five of them have been murdered, it makes the whole issue of supply extremely difficult and, as of now, there is very little food getting in to Khartoum.
“We are acutely aware of this and it is yet another reason why we are pressing with our international partners, our regional friends and partners, through the United Nations and its agencies, for an urgent ceasefire that holds.”
The number of people who had replied to the Foreign Office’s request for information and registered themselves was around 2,000, he added. “There are public speculations that there is about 4,000 British nationals. That is, of course, British nationals and dual nationals, because if you have a British passport you are effectively in the same category.”
Meanwhile, Sunak, who chaired a sixth emergency Cobra session about the escalating violence late on Sunday (23 April), is currently in discussion with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi about “further options for ensuring safe passage for civilians wanting to leave Sudan”.
‘A clear-cut plan’ is needed
Calls are growing for more to be done, with Alicia Kearns, the Conservative Party chairwoman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, saying “there is no imminent sign of a ceasefire” which means an operation to evacuate Brits, who she said will be “in abject fear”, must begin immediately.
Kearns told the Commons: “Time is running out. We need to do the evacuation now.” She said: “The central [tenet] of the contract between British nationals and their Government, or indeed the nation state, is that of trust. Trust at this point is being stretched, trust that we will evacuate them and get them to a place of safety when they are in need.”
She said she recognised the complexity and risk, but added: “I do urge (the minister) to get our people home.” Kearns said if the UK is not evacuating “we must have the moral courage to tell our British nationals that that is the case. Because they are running out of food, they are running out of water, electricity and internet signal... Some are killing their pets because they know they can no longer feed them.”
Mitchell responded: “(The US) have made clear that they are not, as things stand, planning to take out any of their citizens. We have not made that clear. Indeed, we have made clear that we are working at all levels to try and ensure that we can.”
Meanwhile, Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, called for a “clear-cut plan” to evacuate British passport-holders. “If that plan does not emerge today,” he told GB News, “then individuals will lose faith and then start making their own way back,” which he warned could lead to “some very difficult situations”.
The possibility of airlifting large numbers of people out of Sudan has been complicated by the fact that most major airports have become battlegrounds, with any movement out of the capital proving increasingly perilous.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told BBC News that the mission to evacuate diplomats had been “dangerous and precarious”, involving 1,200 personnel from the British Army, Royal Navy, and the Royal Air Force (RAF). He said C-130 Hercules and A400 Airbus aircraft were deployed to “go in and collect our diplomats and their residents, and fly out to safety”.
US special forces also rescued about 70 American diplomats from Khartoum on Sunday (23 April), but Washington has also so far said it remains too dangerous to carry out a government co-ordinated mass evacuation of citizens. France, Greece and other European countries have said they are organising evacuations for embassy employees and nationals, along with some citizens of allied countries.
The current explosion of violence in Sudan comes after two generals fell out over an internationally brokered deal with democracy activists, which was meant to incorporate group Rapid Support Forces into the military and eventually lead to civilian rule. It has been reported that more than 400 people have died in the conflict, but many expect the number to increase.