The UK government will begin evacuating British citizens trapped in Sudan today, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said after he was accused of ‘abandoning’ thousands of civilians in the war-torn country.
Military flights will now evacuate at least 2,000 British nationals with a UK passport from an airfield outside the capital of Khartoum as a three-day ceasefire came into effect.
Mr Cleverly said Foreign Office officials have started contacting British nationals trapped in Sudan directly about the ‘large-scale’ operation involving some 1,400 military personnel.
But on the ground, there are fears the government’s late decision to evacuate civilians – after choosing to only rescue diplomats – is ‘too little, too late’ for Britons due to how dangerous it is to travel through the various checkpoints to the airfield.
Mr Cleverly admitted that Britons will have to ‘make their own way’ across Khartoum – where the fighting has been fiercest – without any help from the government.
Sir Nicholas Kay, a former British ambassador to Sudan, warned the situation during the ceasefire remains ‘precarious’ and at any moment, the fighting between the warring military factions could start again – thwarting any plans of a safe evacuation.
Indeed, the sound of heavy gunfire and explosions filled the air in the capital of Khartoum and residents said warplanes were flying overhead.
Sir Kay warned that moving around Khartoum could be ‘very difficult’, with the bridges crossing the Blue and White Nile rivers being controlled by the armed groups, while Conservative MP Alice Kearns said it is now ‘a race against time’ to get Britons out of Sudan.
Pictured: Around 400 Germans and nationals from more than 20 countries, including UK citizens, are evacuated in a flight from Khartoum
Five British nationals were evacuated by Saudi Arabia on a Royal Saudi Navy vessel. Pictured: British Consul-General in Saudi Arabia, Cecille El Beleidi, meets with British citizens in Jeddah
British embassy staff are pictured waiting for UK nationals arriving from Sudan in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
The UK government will begin evacuating British citizens trapped in Sudan today, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said after he was accused of ‘abandoning’ thousands of civilians in the war-torn country
Some Britons said they have already lost hope in the Government after the Foreign Office decided to only evacuate diplomats. They are now making the perilous journey to Port Sudan to try and evacuate by sea.
The Foreign Office said today priority will be given to family groups with children, the elderly and individuals with medical conditions.
It said British nationals should not make their way to the airfield unless they are called, and warned the situation remained volatile, meaning the ability to conduct evacuations could change at short notice.
Oher exit routes are being considered, with two UK Navy vessels having been prepared for a possible evacuation.
Mr Cleverly said he had made contact with the leaders of the rival military factions in Sudan, calling on them to allow British nationals and dual nationals to be evacuated safely.
But he admitted it was impossible to predict how long the window for the evacuation would remain open.
‘It is important to remember that ceasefires have been announced and have fallen apart in the past, so the situation remains dangerous, volatile and unpredictable,’ he said.
He added: ‘We have said that we are unable to provide escorts from where British nationals are to the airhead, they will have to make their own way there – as indeed has been the case for the nationals of other countries.’
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak paid tribute to Britain’s armed forces, diplomats and others involved in what he called a ‘complex operation’.
‘The UK will continue to work to end the bloodshed in Sudan and support a democratic government,’ he added.
It comes as the first RAF military transport aircraft took off from the Akrotiri airbase in Cyprus and is heading towards Sudan to rescue those trapped in the war-torn country.
The plan involves similar aircraft to those used to rescue diplomats from Sudan – A400M and C-130 Hercules transport planes.
There are believed to be around 4,000 British passport holders – which means that scores of RAF planes are required to land in Sudan or multiple waves of flights in order to evacuate them all.
But Ash Alexander Cooper, former joint operational commander in the British Armed Forces, said the window of opportunity to evacuate trapped Britons is ‘really small’.
Cooper warned that while news of a 72-hour ceasefire is welcome, the last ten days of intense fighting ‘shows it might not hold for long’. He also said news of the ceasefire may not have reached junior commanders.
Cooper told Sky News: ‘Air, clearly, is the fastest way out but the capacity on planes or helicopters is more limited.
‘Land would be the fastest way to get people out if the window is really small but clearly that is quite dangerous, especially if news of the ceasefire hasn’t filtered all the way down to the most junior commanders on the ground.
‘At the highest level, if the commanders have agreed one thing that’s great – but as we understand communication is particularly difficult in country now, so the risk to life is still very high.
‘It is a risk calculus not just for those on the ground, but also for the British government.’
Cleverly announced the evacuation would begin today after the government faced criticism over its decision to only evacuate diplomats and their families – all while scores of other nations have managed to evacuate hundreds of civilians.
Five Britons were among scores of civilians who were evacuated from Sudan aboard a Saudi Arabian Navy vessel last night – but efforts are now focused on saving the thousands more UK nationals who are trapped there.
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.
Last night, British troops landed in Port Sudan, a fairly stable city in the northeast of the country, on a scouting mission to rescue UK civilians caught up in the conflict.
France, Germany and Saudi Arabia have each carried out hundreds of evacuations, including some Britons.
Evacuees from war-torn Sudan sit inside a military plane as they wait to be processed by members of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) upon their arrival at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, on Monday
People evacuated from Sudan arrive at a military airport in Amman on Monday night
James Cleverly said Foreign Office officials have now started contacting British nationals trapped in Sudan directly and are providing them with routes for departure out of the country
Sudanese greet army soldiers, loyal to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, in the Red Sea city of Port Sudan on April 16
So far, the UK has only extracted diplomats and their dependents. A group of around 30 were escorted by Special Air Service troops from Khartoum to an airbase 20 miles north of the capital on Sunday morning. There, they boarded RAF aircraft and were flown to a British base in Cyprus.
Scores of Britons have accused the UK government of leaving them to fend for themselves in a country where corpses are now ‘littering the streets’.
‘Morgues are full, corpses litter the streets’ and overwhelmed hospitals often have to stop operations for security reasons, said Dr Attiya Abdallah, head of the Sudan doctors’ union.
The shortages in food and water in the country, where more than 400 people have died in a week of violence, has also seen some people being forced to kill their pets to save them from starving.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday that Sudan’s warring generals had agreed to a 72-hour ceasefire starting on Tuesday (10.00pm GMT on Monday), after 10 days of urban combat killed hundreds, wounded thousands and sparked a mass exodus of foreigners.
Nour Al-Ghanmi, from the Saudi Royal Naval Forces, carries a tray of sweets to welcome evacuees at Jeddah Port, Saudi Arabia, Monday, April 24
A nun followed by Italian Army soldiers disembarks from an Air Force plane carrying Italian citizens evacuated from Sudan landed at the Ciampino Military airport in Rome, April 24
It comes after the British Ambassador to Sudan, Giles Lever, emerged from his London home on Monday to assure stranded people that every effort was being made to evacuate them to safety. He said he had returned to Britain for a holiday from Khartoum and circumstances forced him to stay on and help from London.
Speaking outside his home in leafy Wimbledon, Mr Lever told MailOnline: ‘I came back here for a scheduled holiday at Easter and have been unable to return. I had been working solidly on the problems in Sudan for three months before I left.
‘I hadn’t seen my wife at Christmas and my holiday was approved by my boss. But I cannot get back there.
‘But it is incorrect to say that the embassy had been abandoned. There was a very senior diplomat, my deputy, in charge while I took leave.’
Germany and France have been at the forefront of evacuations among western nations, and have even rescued British civilians amid criticism the UK Government has been too slow in its response.
France confirmed it had extracted ‘significant’ numbers of foreign nationals from Sudan including Britons, while German Armed Forces evacuated 311 people yesterday morning – with some UK civilians among them, The Telegraph reports.
A British businessman said: ‘The French have been absolutely incredible, amazing, I can’t thank them enough for saving my life.’
At least one French soldier has been left in a critical condition after being shot in the suburbs of Khartoum on Sunday night.
Five Britons were among those on board a Saudi Royal Naval vessel as it extracted its nationals from Sudan. A clip shows 199 people travelling on a ship as it arrives in the Saudi port city of Jeddah on the Red Sea.
Amid warnings that time could be running out to save the more than 4,000 Britons trapped in Sudan, the UK has mobilised troops, aircraft and warships to secure their evacuation.
RAF transport aircraft last night landed in Port Sudan, while two ships based in the Middle East – RFA Cardigan Bay and HMS Lancaster – are being prepared for despatch.
But despite these efforts, British civilians awaiting rescue are coping with diminishing food, water and electricity supplies.
April 20: Fire broke out after a house was hit in the Lamab district during clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces in Khartoum
A Dunkirk-style evacuation of thousands of British nationals from Sudan is also being considered by Rishi Sunak amid intense criticism of the UK’s failure to protect terrified families trapped amid the fighting
Giles Lever, the UK’s ambassador to Sudan, pictured outside his London Home
Pensioners Abdalla Sholgami and Alaweya Rishwan. Abdalla is a dual Sudanese British citizen and both are stuck in Khartoum – despite family members calling multiple times a day they have received no help
Saudi and other citizens arrive at the Jeddah naval port after being evacuated by the Saudi Royal Navy from Sudan
At least five Britons are among the 199 civilians rescued from Sudan aboard a Saudi Royal Navy ship
Egyptian evacuees from Sudan arriving in Cairo, Egypt, shortly after disembarking from an army aircraft
A handout photo made available by the South Korea Presidential Office shows 28 South Korean nationals arriving on a South Korean C-130J military transport aircraft after being evacuated from Sudan
Dr Reem Taha, a trustee of the UK Sudanese Junior Doctors Association, said 70 NHS doctors are among those stranded and communication in the area is difficult. She told The Mirror: ‘Internet services are poor and international calls are not going through. It is rapidly evolving daily. Some areas are under fire constantly.
‘They are NHS workers and we can’t afford to lose NHS doctors. We are worried about them. I think they have lost all hope.
‘The last communication I had from one doctor on Sunday was that he was thinking of fleeing through Egypt. But we don’t know any more.’
The ferocity of fighting in Sudan has created additional problems for evacuation, with Government sources admitting it is more dangerous than the rescue operation out of Afghanistan in 2021. At that time, Kabul was not yet in Taliban hands – allowing for more control over the extraction.
As many as 2,000 UK citizens remain in Khartoum as the fighting continues and a humanitarian crisis worsens. Food and medical supplies are becoming increasingly scarce and gunmen are roaming the streets.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced yesterday that Sudan’s warring generals had agreed to a three-day ceasefire starting from midnight, after previous bids to pause the conflict quickly disintegrated.
‘Following intense negotiation over the past 48 hours, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have agreed to implement a nationwide ceasefire starting at midnight on April 24, to last for 72 hours,’ Blinken said in a statement two hours before the truce was to go into effect.
During this period, the United States urges the SAF and RSF to immediately and fully uphold the ceasefire,’ Blinken said.
Blinken said that the United States was also working with partners to set up a committee that would negotiate a permanent ceasefire in Sudan, where the conflict between rival generals descended into deadly violence 10 days ago.
Fighting erupted between Sudan’s armed forces and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group on April 15 and has killed at least 427 people, knocked out hospitals and other services and turned residential areas into war zones.
Commandos from the Saudi Royal Naval Forces line up in front of a ship carrying evacuees at Jeddah Port, Saudi Arabia, Monday
Rita El-Gazali flew to Khartoum to visit her father – a British national now stranded in Sudan
Smoke fills the sky in Khartoum, Sudan, near Doha International Hospital on Friday
‘During this period, the United States urges the SAF (Sudan Armed Forces) and RSF to immediately and fully uphold the ceasefire. To support a durable end to the fighting, the United States will coordinate with regional and international partners, and Sudanese civilian stakeholders,’ Blinken said in a statement.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the violence in a country that flanks the Red Sea, Horn of Africa and Sahel regions ‘risks a catastrophic conflagration … that could engulf the whole region and beyond’.
The Security Council planned a meeting on Sudan on Tuesday.
Tens of thousands of people, including Sudanese and citizens from neighbouring countries, have fled in the past few days, including to Egypt, Chad and South Sudan, despite instability and difficult living conditions there.
Foreign governments have been working to bring their nationals to safety. One 65-vehicle convoy took dozens of children among hundreds of diplomats and aid workers on an 800-km (500-mile), 35-hour journey in searing heat from the embattled capital Khartoum to Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
Destroyed military vehicles are seen in Khartoum, Sudan, on Thursday
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hailed the military operation carried out by UK special forces to rescue a group of 30 people made up of British diplomats and their families out of Sudan
Smoke is seen in Khartoum, Sudan, on Saturday. The fighting in the capital between the Sudanese Army and Rapid Support Forces resumed after an internationally brokered cease-fire failed
French soldiers evacuate French citizens, as part of the ‘Operation Sagittaire’ evacuation by the French army, in Khartoum, Sudan, on Sunday
The protagonists in the power struggle are General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (left), head of the army and leader of Sudan’s ruling council since 2019, and his deputy on the council, RSF leader General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (right), commonly known as Hemedti
An aerial view of black smoke rising above the Khartoum International Airport on April 20 amid ongoing battles between the forces of two rival generals
The fighting between forces loyal to two top generals has put the nation at risk of collapse and could have consequences far beyond its borders. Pictured: A battle-damaged street in Khartoum, Sudan
Some British nationals have said they felt ‘abandoned’ after diplomats were rescued in a night-time evacuation mission, and were organising dangerous private evacuations.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urged the Government to move quickly to help British nationals, telling journalists in south London: ‘There’s deep concern about those that are still there and in fear and real concern about what’s going to happen to them.
‘I do want the Government to do everything it can at pace to help them get out of that difficult situation.’
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said more than a thousand people have been extracted through the combined efforts of member states.
About 50 Irish citizens have been evacuated from Khartoum to Djibouti with the support of France and Spain, with more evacuations planned, deputy premier Micheal Martin said.
William, a UK citizen in Sudan, told the BBC he was forced to ‘go private’ and leave Khartoum on a bus arranged by his Sudanese employer because ‘we’ve had absolutely nothing but nonsense from the Government’.
Iman Abugarga, a British woman who has been sheltering in Khartoum, said she feels ‘absolutely’ abandoned by the British Government.
‘It is shameful how they have mismanaged this situation,’ she told the Telegraph.
Mr Sunak said on Sunday there had been a ‘complex and rapid’ evacuation of British diplomats and their families from Khartoum, a city gripped by an internal battle for control between rival generals.
Hundreds of people have died and thousands hurt in a bloody conflict between the Sudanese army and a powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces.
The prospect of airlifting large numbers of people out of Sudan has been complicated by the fact that most major airports have become battlegrounds, while movement out of the capital has proved perilous.
The current explosion of violence comes after two generals fell out over a recent internationally brokered deal with democracy activists, which was meant to incorporate the RSF into the military and eventually lead to civilian rule.