Ministers held another emergency meeting late on Sunday night about the Sudan crisis as trapped British nationals called for the UK Government to come to their aid.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly chaired a sixth Sudan Cobra session to discuss the “escalation” of violence in the African nation as internal warring rages on. It came hours after the Cabinet minister faced questions about why British diplomats had been prioritised over other Sudan-based UK citizens following a night time evacuation mission to rescue embassy staff.
Mr Cleverly has warned that UK Government efforts to provide assistance to those stuck in Sudan will remain “severely limited” until a ceasefire is reached. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Sunday confirmed there had been a “complex and rapid” evacuation for British diplomats and their families from the capital Khartoum, a city gripped by an internal battle for control between rival generals.
More than 400 people have died and thousands have been injured in a bloody conflict between the Sudanese army and a powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
Mr Cleverly told broadcasters that the Government had decided to temporarily close the British Embassy in Khartoum and swoop in to remove staff after “specific threats” had been directed towards diplomats.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told BBC News the mission had been “dangerous and precarious”, with 1,200 personnel involved from the British Army, Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force (RAF).
He said C-130 Hercules and A400 Airbus aircraft were deployed to “go in and collect our diplomats and their residents, and fly out to safety”.
Labour praised the “bravery and professionalism” of the armed forces in carrying out the evacuation.
But senior Opposition MPs said they remained “deeply concerned” about the welfare of British nationals still in Sudan.
In a joint statement, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy and shadow defence secretary John Healey said: “We need to know about Government plans to help them and the steps the UK is taking to support an immediate ceasefire.”
Their comments came after the Irish Government confirmed it planned to send a team to Sudan to evacuate Irish citizens. The Sudanese Junior Doctors Association UK said it was aware of 71 NHS doctors who are currently trapped in Sudan.
“We are concerned for their safety and the safety of their spouses and children,” the organisation tweeted. “These are UK citizens or residents and a mixture of consultants and junior doctors. The situation is worsening and they need immediate evacuation from this war zone.”
The Foreign Secretary said the decision to close the British Embassy in Khartoum and remove officials for redeployment within the region would help strengthen diplomatic efforts. Mr Cleverly said the Conservative administration remained “absolutely committed to supporting” Britons in the country.
But he said that without an end to the fighting, ministers were “severely limited in our ability to provide assistance to British nationals”. The official advice continues to be for UK nationals to register their presence in Sudan with the Foreign Office and to stay indoors.
The prospect of airlifting large numbers of people out of Sudan has been complicated by the fact that most major airports have become battlegrounds and movement out of the capital has proven perilous. US special forces also evacuated about 70 of its staff from Khartoum on Sunday but Washington has so far said it remains too dangerous to carry out government-co-ordinated mass evacuation of citizens.
France, Greece and other European countries have said they are organising evacuations for embassy employees and nationals, along with some citizens of allied countries. Mr Sunak on Sunday spoke with his Egyptian counterpart, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, with the two leaders sharing their “deep concerns on the escalation in violence” in Sudan.
The current explosion of violence comes after two generals fell out over a recent internationally brokered deal with democracy activists that was meant to incorporate the RSF into the military and eventually lead to civilian rule.
No 10 said Mr Sunak also thanked Egypt — which shares its lengthy southern land border with Sudan — for its support in the evacuation of British staff. The pair also discussed “further options for ensuring safe passage for civilians wanting to leave Sudan”, according to Downing Street.