By Alexander Zhang
Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) airlifted 1,888 people on 21 flights from war-torn Sudan in the UK government’s evacuation operation, which ended on Saturday evening.
The final UK evacuation flight departed from the Wadi Saeedna airfield near the Sudanese capital Khartoum at 10 p.m. local time on Saturday, the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) said.
In a statement on the government’s foreign travel advice website, the FCDO said: “The UK government is no longer running evacuation flights from Wadi Saeedna airfield. The last evacuation flight departed the airfield at 2200 Sudan time on 29 April.”
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: “The UK has brought more than 1,888 people to safety from Sudan thanks to the efforts of staff and military working around the clock to deliver this evacuation—the largest of any Western country.
“We continue to press all diplomatic levers to secure a long-term ceasefire and end the bloodshed in Sudan. Ultimately a stable transition to civilian rule is the best way to protect the security and prosperity of the Sudanese people.”
Hundreds of people have been killed in a bloody conflict between the Sudanese army and a powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces, which broke out on April 15.
The UK government said on April 23 that the British military had evacuated UK diplomats and their families from Sudan.
The RAF took over the Wadi Saeedna airfield from the Germans on April 25 to begin airlifting other British nationals and their immediate families who wished to leave and were able to get to the airfield. The evacuees were first flown to Cyprus and then to the UK.
The operation was carried out amid a fragile 72-hour ceasefire between the warring factions. An extension of the armistice was brokered on Friday, but fighting has broken out again in Khartoum.
Speaking to the BBC, Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell said the operation has been “extremely successful,” but stressed: “We can’t stay there forever in such dangerous circumstances.”
The government has advised any British nationals still remaining in Sudan to make their way to Port Sudan.
A statement on the FCDO travel advice site says: “We have established an office at the Coral Hotel in Port Sudan. If you are a British national in Port Sudan who needs help to leave Sudan, visit our team who will be able to signpost you to options for departure.”
The FCDO said on Thursday that British ambassador to Sudan Giles Lever has been relocated to neighbouring Ethiopia to “lead the UK’s diplomatic efforts in the region to bring fighting to an end in Sudan.”
Transport Secretary Mark Harper told Sky News on Sunday: “The evacuation that we have conducted is the longest and largest evacuation of any Western nation.”
He added: “We have now got some staff based at Port Sudan, which is where we are going to continue providing consular support for British nationals that have chosen to remain in the country.”
The government said initially that only British passport holders and immediate family members with existing UK entry clearance were eligible for evacuation.
But, hours before the final flight took off, the government said it had broadened the eligibility criteria for evacuation to include Sudanese doctors working for Britain’s National Health Service (NHS).
Abdulrahman Babiker, a Sudanese doctor who works at the Manchester Royal Infirmary, told the BBC that he had initially been turned away by offices on Thursday despite having a UK work permit. He was later allowed to board a flight to Cyprus and would be travelling to the UK on Saturday.
Following criticism from opposition politicians, the government agreed to include NHS doctors without UK passports on the last flights out of Sudan.
A spokesman said: “We have made the decision to extend the evacuation criteria to include eligible non-British nationals in Sudan who are working as clinicians within the NHS and their dependents who have leave to enter the UK.
“We are able to offer this increased eligibility thanks to the efforts of the staff and military who have delivered this evacuation, the largest of any Western country.”
“We continue to work intensively, alongside international partners, to maintain the ceasefire and bring an end to fighting, the single most important thing we can do to ensure the safety of British nationals and others in Sudan.”
PA Media contributed to this report.