Two NHS doctors have been denied seats on British planes evacuating people from Sudan, leaving them stranded in the war zone just hours before its fragile ceasefire ends.
The junior doctors made the perilous journey to Wadi Saeedna airfield, where the UK government has been evacuating UK nationals, on the advice of their MP after UK citizens were urged to leave while they still can.
But they were turned away, prompting fears that the dozens of NHS doctors stuck in the country could face the same plight.
Upon arrival, the pair, who are not disclosing their names for safety reasons, told friends in a text message: “Even showing them that I work for the NHS, they didn’t want to talk further and they showed me the way out.”
Dr Reem Taha, a member of the Sudanese Junior Doctors Association UK which has a WhatsApp group of 71 Sudanese NHS doctors trapped in Sudan, said more of her colleagues were making their way to the evacuation point on Friday and were “devastated” to hear they had been turned away.
The pair, who had been visiting extended family for Eid al-Fitr, risked their lives to travel through the night from Khartoum, which has been at the epicentre of the fighting since fierce clashes between forces loyal to the country’s two top generals erupted in the city on 15 April.
Dr Taha, an NHS doctor based in South Yorkshire who has been in touch with the pair, told The Independent their journey highlighted how “desperate they are to be evacuated”.
She said: “You pass through at least 10 checkpoints until you get there. You have to cross a bridge that’s not safe and is a particular area of conflict. It is a dangerous journey and people try to avoid it at night. The fact that they tried to get there at night shows you how desperate they are to be evacuated.”
After waiting at the airfield overnight and being denied access to the flight one of the doctors has been been forced to return to his family home and the violence of the Sudanese capital. Intermittent water and electricity supplies, the constant sound of gunshots and bullets flying through the air await him there.
“It’s really heartbreaking and upsetting that they’ve been denied seats,” said Dr Taha. “You feel like you’re just not worthy of a small spot on a plane.
“They’ve already had such a tough time. Today is the last day of the ceasefire, and we’re worried they might not get another chance to make it to the military airport to be evacuated – or worse be injured or killed.”
The pair have biometric residence permits (BRP), which are visas that are proof of people’s right to study or work in the UK. One has lived in the country and worked in the NHS for around two years, which included risking his life working during the Covid pandemic.
Amid confusion over the British government’s plans to evacuate citizens, the Foreign Office said it was keeping the situation “under review”.
But it confirmed to The Independent that only British Nationals and their immediate family members with existing eligibility to enter the UK were being evacuated.
This does not include NHS doctors who are non-British and visa holders, the British Medical Association (BMA) said.
Dr Latifa Patel, BMA Representative Body Chair, told The Independent it is “heartbreaking” to hear reports NHS doctors are being turned away from evacuation flights and left behind in life-threatening conditions.
She wrote to the Foreign Secretary on Wednesday calling for urgent action from the Government, which “has a duty of care to ensure the safety of these NHS doctors who work hard to care for patients in the UK, including NHS doctors who are not British passport holders”.
The two junior doctors said they were told at the evacuation point: “Either I need to have a British passport or to be with a family member who has a British passport, with no exceptions at all.”
Fighting flared in Sudan on Wednesday as its armed forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) battled on Khartoum’s outskirts, undermining the truce in their 11-day conflict. The ceasefire officially ends at 10pm on Thursday, “at which point violence could escalate”, according to the UK government.
Dr Taha said: “I hope the government will rectify or just explain this.
“Those who risked everything and put their faith in the UK government have been completely let down.”
The British Foreign Office said it does not comment on individual cases.