Britain has rescued almost 900 people in the last three days from the “nightmare” in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, where the military and a rebel group known as the Rapid Support Forces have been at war with one another since April 15. More than 2,000 British nationals in Sudan have registered under the evacuation plans but the true number of citizens there could be far higher.
British officials have been accused of failing to take seriously the “traumatic” situation facing UK passport holders near the fighting, with one dual-national journalist claiming “the senior staff at the embassy were all on holiday during a time of increasing hostility”.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has admitted it will be “potentially impossible” to continue the evacuation operation after the truce agreed between the rival generals in Khartoum ends at midnight.
As of 4pm on Thursday, the Foreign Office said that 897 people had been evacuated over eight RAF airlifts, with further flights expected in the next few hours.
The Foreign Office, which has not said how many of the evacuees are Britons or foreign nationals, urged citizens to head to the airstrip before the ceasefire ends.
Military chiefs say they have the capacity to lift at least 500 people per day out of the Wadi Saeedna airfield near the capital of Khartoum.
Mr Cleverly said: “We cannot predict exactly what will happen when that ceasefire ends, but what we do know is it will be much, much harder, potentially impossible.
“So, what we’re saying to British nationals is if you’re hesitant, if you’re weighing up your options, our strong, strong advice is to go through Wadi Saeedna whilst the ceasefire is up and running.
“There are planes, there is capacity, we will lift you out. I’m not able to make those same assurances once a ceasefire has ended.”
A spokesperson for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Thursday afternoon that the UK’s ambassador in Sudan has been speaking to the warring parties to urge them to extend the ceasefire.
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The first evacuees landed in the UK on Wednesday via Larnaca airport in Cyprus. There were 250 people on board one flight, including women with small children and babies in prams, as well as elderly people in wheelchairs
One man, who did not give his name, described his experience as a “nightmare”, comparing the fighting in Khartoum to a scene from a “Bond movie”.
He said: “Khartoum is like a ghost city, everyone is leaving Khartoum now. We are very grateful to the British servicemen and women who risked their lives to come to Sudan and help us out.”
Nemar, from west London, said the British government had “been marvellous” during the evacuation, adding: “I feel very proud that I have made it here.”
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But others have been heavily critical of the British evacuation efforts. One British-Sudanese journalist described her fury at the “absolutely ridiculous” response.
Leila Latif claimed senior members of the British embassy in Khartoum were on holiday when the violence broke out, leaving her and her children to make their own way to Egypt.
She described having to sit alongside groups of men wielding machine guns on the bus to the neighbouring nation, surviving only on their “compassion”.
She said Canadian and German friends of hers have been safe for days while “the British can’t even manage to coordinate the fact that we could have joined other efforts”.