Sudan: 200-300 British nationals evacuated amid criticism of UK response

More than 200 British nationals have been evacuated from Sudan, the home secretary, Suella Braverman, has said, after Germany granted permission to use an airstrip it has been controlling.

People have started arriving in Cyprus on RAF flights out of the north-east African country – the scene of increasingly bitter fighting.

About 1,000 British personnel have been mobilised to run the rescue operation and are to take control of the airstrip now that the German effort has been completed, the defence secretary, Ben Wallace, said.

The British government has been heavily criticised for initially only evacuating diplomats – only belatedly agreeing to help individual British nationals, claiming that the direct threat was to the former, and that a rescue would be difficult.

Wallace indicated that Germany had now handed over the airstrip because Berlin had completed its rescue mission by Tuesday, with its foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, saying it would not leave its citizens “to their own devices” – an apparent swipe at the UK’s approach.

Braverman defended her government’s response to the crisis on Wednesday, insisting the government had been “closely monitoring the situation for weeks”.

She said: “We commenced an evacuation mission in the last 24 to 48 hours and we expect there to be approximately 200 to 300 people who have been relocated from Sudan in the last few flights.

“We are now commencing an extensive operation, working with over 1,000 personnel from the RAF and the armed forces,” Braverman said, adding the government had had to cope with a “larger cohort of British nationals in Sudan compared to other countries”.

Families with young children were among those on the first flights that landed in Cyprus, with a British man telling the BBC his sister – who left Sudan overnight – felt an overwhelming sense of relief. The first charter flight back to London was due to depart later on Wednesday.Three planes were due to have left Khartoum for Cyprus by Wednesday morning, with the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, pledging “many more” would follow as he warned of a “critical” 24 hours.

British nationals have been told to make their own way to the Wadi Saeedna airstrip near the capital, with some fearing they will not make it due to a petrol shortage.

Wallace said 120 British troops were already supporting the operation there. “The Germans are leaving tomorrow, and we will take over the facilitation at the airfield. And the reason the Germans are leaving is people have stopped coming in large numbers.”

He said only one nation could facilitate the airfield at a time, adding: “If the Spanish or the Italians or anyone else wants to fly, we’ll be the ones giving permissions, effectively.”

There is “some risk that some of the planes are not full”, he said, as there are “not thousands at the gate” as in the evacuation from Afghanistan.

The government is considering other options, including a possible seaborne evacuation from Port Sudan, 500 miles from the capital. HMS Lancaster and the RFA Cardigan Bay have been sent to the region.

Announcing the completion of Germany’s evacuation efforts, Baerbock said Berlin would not leave civilians “to their own devices”.

She said that, “unlike in other countries”, Germany’s evacuation had included all its nationals and not just embassy staff, in an apparent swipe at the UK’s approach.

Sunak defended the UK’s efforts, saying it was right that diplomats were prioritised “because they were being targeted”.

“The security situation on the ground in Sudan is complicated, it is volatile and we wanted to make sure we could put in place processes that are going to work for people, that are going to be safe and effective,” the prime minister said at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office crisis centre.

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