UK evacuation mission from Sudan ends with more than 2,000 people brought to safety

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The UK has evacuated 2,197 people to safety from war-torn Sudan, making it the longest and largest airlift by any of the Western nations during the crisis, the Foreign Office has said.

As fighting raged on Monday in the capital, Khartoum, the UK government’s airlift came to an end with two final evacuation flights from Port Sudan on the country’s eastern coast.

Attention now turns to diplomatic and humanitarian efforts as civilian casualties continue to rise amid intense fighting.

The evacuation of British Nationals onto an awaiting RAF aircraft at Wadi Seidna Air Base in Khartoum, Sudan
The evacuation of British nationals onto an awaiting RAF aircraft at Wadi Seidna Air Base in Khartoum, Sudan

After fighting broke out on 15 April, British diplomats were quickly evacuated in a special military operation a week later, and the government faced criticism for not evacuating British nationals as well.

After a ceasefire was agreed the RAF flew more than 20 flights and the UK deployed over 1,000 personnel to evacuate British nationals, as well as Sudanese doctors and those of other nationalities who work as clinicians within the NHS, and their dependents, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said.

In total, the UK has evacuated 1,087 people from other nations, including the US, Ireland, Netherlands, Canada, Germany and Australia.

Those numbers are expected to be updated tomorrow after the final flights land in Cyprus.

Sombre note in the air as evacuees leave Sudan

Evacuees gathered in Port Sudan airport today to board British military planes travelling to Larnaca, Cyprus. Many look tired but relieved after a 12-hour journey from the destruction in Khartoum.

There’s a sombre note in the air as family units miss their members. The stories of British citizens who were unable to register their dependents or spouses flood the internet, but here in the airport car park they come alive.

“I feel very selfish and privileged it’s like a mix between guilt and relief to be on this flight,” says medical student Mishkat, who is flying to the UK to her parents but leaving behind her cousins.

Rescue operations shifted to Port Sudan from Wadi Seidna military air base after a Turkish military plane came under fire as it was about to land. A senior military commander told Sky News that the plane was targeted after straying from the planned flight route.

Many evacuees already felt unsafe travelling to the airfield before the incident, as the route from central Khartoum passed through many Rapid Support Forces checkpoints and reported harassment.

Turkish students and residents braved the journey to the air base only to be left disappointed. The Turkish embassy relocated them to Port Sudan but two flights later, full of Turkish citizens, they still haven’t been evacuated.

They have been sleeping at the airport mosque for the last three nights and have received food and supplies but no plan of return.

“We asked the Turkish embassy to clarify [plans for further evacuation],” says Raid Jaafar, a Turkish student.

Read more:
‘Death will come to you anywhere’ – mayhem at Port Sudan
Traumatised Sudan evacuees describe ‘horrendous’ scenes
Explainer: What’s behind the Sudan fighting?

On Saturday, the UK stopped evacuation flights from an airfield north of the capital, Khartoum, due to what the government said was a “significant decline” in the number of Britons coming forward, and an “increasingly volatile” situation on the ground.

The evacuation operation then moved to Port Sudan where a UK team was set up to provide consular assistance to any remaining British nationals. The Royal Navy ship HMS Lancaster was also deployed to the port to assist in the evacuation efforts.

British Consular Support Centre at the Coral Hotel
British Consular Support Centre at the Coral Hotel

In a statement, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly hailed the “extraordinary” efforts of the UK evacuation teams, and added: “As the focus turns to humanitarian and diplomatic efforts, we will continue to do all we can to press for a long-term ceasefire and an immediate end to the violence in Sudan.”

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace added that the British armed forces had “led the way” in evacuating nationals.

“In one week, the RAF has flown more than 20 flights, deployed over a thousand personnel, evacuated over 2,000 civilians and helped citizens from more than 20 countries to get home,” he said.

“HMS Lancaster will remain at Port Sudan and her crew will continue to help provide support.”

The attention of UK teams now turns to diplomacy and humanitarian aid.

Smoke rises above buildings after an aerial bombardment, during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan
Smoke rises above buildings after an aerial bombardment, during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan

International Development Minister Andrew Mitchell has spent the weekend in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, to meet with Kenyan President William Samoei Ruto and African Union Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat to discuss the conflict.

Meanwhile, the UK’s ambassador to Sudan – who faced criticism for not being in the country when the fighting broke out – has been deployed to Addis Ababa to work on the UK’s response from the British Embassy in Ethiopia.

The civilian death toll has risen upwards of 411 and the number of injured to more than 2,023, according to the Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate, which measures casualties.

UK officials and medics are meeting the evacuees at an airport in Cyprus
UK officials and medics are meeting the evacuees at an airport in Cyprus

More than 50,000 Sudanese refugees – mostly women and children – have crossed over into Chad, Egypt, South Sudan and the Central African Republic since the crisis began, the United Nations said.

The UK government has urged British nationals who remain in Sudan to continue to follow the government’s travel advice, saying that the situation remains “volatile”.

Consular assistance remains available at Port Sudan, which has become the country’s de-facto administrative capital as fighting rages in Khartoum.

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