April 11 2024
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British citizens remain trapped in Sudan ‘abandoned’ by the Foreign Office

British citizens remain trapped in Sudan ‘abandoned’ by the Foreign Office

The families of British and British-Sudanese nationals, some of whom remain trapped in Sudan, have told of feeling abandoned by the British Government and have compared the inadequate response offered to assist them to flee the violence with the schemes set up to assist Ukrainian refugees to escape from the conflict there.


On April 15 2023, violent clashes broke out between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and an independent paramilitary force known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) who had been ruling the country following a military coup that had overthrown the civilian-led transitional government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. Tensions had been rising after negotiations between the SAF, RSF as negotiations with various other civilian groups had broken down following a disagreement on the integration of the RSF into the regular armed forces.[Text Wrapping Break] 


The conflict threatens to worsen pre-existing issues of hunger, poverty, and inequality creating a humanitarian disaster. As fighting takes place in neighbourhoods without any regard for civilians, the estimated death toll currently stands in the hundreds, and has left more than 75,000 people displaced. Many are still missing and according to the International Organisation on Migration more than 100,000 people have had to flee the country to find safety in Sudan’s neighbouring countries.  The UN has today warned that they are in a ‘race against time’ to get food supplies to neighbouring countries before the rainy season in a region which is already struggling due to drought, conflicts and food insecurity.


The British government had initially told its citizens in Sudan to “stay put” as at first they were only evacuating Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) diplomats and their dependents. For many days thousands of British nationals remained in Sudan, terrified to leave their houses to even get essentials such as groceries and medical supplies. Thousands took to social media to tweet about the situation, complaining about how they felt “abandoned” by the foreign office, with many having family and friends that were British-Sudanese dual citizens and visiting to celebrate the last days of the holy month of Ramadan and the Eid Al-Fitr holiday.   


One of those who spoke out against this policy was British-Sudanese physician Dr. Javid Abdelmoniem, whose father was stuck in Sudan for days awaiting assistance and evacuation from the British government. According to Abdelmoniem, his father had even turned down assistance from family members organising to leave the country as he was under the assumption that he was “going with the British embassy.  


Azhaar Sholgami, who reached out to me on behalf of her grandparents, told me that her grandparents had also been left behind, and received no initial advice, despite her grandfather being a British citizen and living across from the British embassy. At the beginning of the conflict Sholgami had contacted the British embassy to try and assist in the evacuation of her grandfather and grandmother, who is in the process of gaining a British citizenship, but says she was refused such assistance. Sholgami also claims she tried to contact embassy officials to secure water for them, as they were trapped in their homes due to the fighting but was ignored by the embassy leading her elderly grandfather to try and leave to get the water to only later be shot, leaving her disabled grandmother trapped and alone in their house. Sholgami now says she is hoping to take legal action for this failure.  


Waleed Al-Gadi shares a similar experience, his elderly parents who are British nationals managed to make the trip to Egypt after staying nine days in Sudan during extremely difficult circumstances, following the UK government’s advice to stay indoors. Al-Gadi’s family home had been  broken into by RSF soldiers, pushing the family to make the decision that they could not wait for the British government anymore. Despite initially turning down the offer to travel to Egypt with family twice before, believing that the British government would be evacuating nationals with diplomatic staff, Al-Gadi’s parents eventually felt there was no other option but to take the 14 hour bus journey to the Egyptian border. They spent three days with no food, water, or toilet facilities at the border, he claims both his elderly parents, 77 and 70 years old respectively, suffered medical emergencies there and were only then prioritised due to their ages and respective medical histories. They made the decision to cross into Egypt on their Sudanese passports, as they did not want to be separated from their extended families and had no faith that the British government would help them get through the border in Argeen where thousands go other people were waiting to be processed.  Al-Gadi is appealing to the British government to allow Sudanese residents of the UK to be evacuated, as well as open safe pathways for Sudanese refugees fleeing the violence in the “same way” they allowed Ukrainian refugees to do so. He claims that this should be done because the UK had “legitimised” both Burhan and Hemeidti because it suited their respective financial and political gains. Following a media controversy, that advice has since then changed with the British government now evacuating what they call “British passport-holders” from Wadi Sayidna airbase in the country’s capital, reportedly evacuating around 2,000 of those citizens with the last of these evacuations having taken place earlier this week.  


Even so, a large number of British and British-Sudanese nationals remain in Sudan as not only are many trapped and unable to make their way to the evacuation point, which is located in an area surrounded by fighting, but the government has also reportedly restricted entry on to these evacuation planes to those with British passports. This restriction has forced many UK residents to make the long and arduous journey to either Egypt or Port Sudan to try and escape the violence. Located more than 600 km away from the capital, many have attempted to reach Port Sudan to be evacuated by sea to Saudi Arabia, although thousands report waiting for days in an unorganised and sometimes “unfair” evacuation procedures. One such person was Pallavi Udani, who’s daughter Jinita reached out to tell her story of reportedly traveling a total of 96 hours, to Port Sudan, Saudi Arabia, India, then finally back to London after the British embassy refused to evacuate her Irish mother who has a UK residency because she was not a British passport holder. That being said, even when given the chance, many British citizens, when faced with the option of being evacuated by themselves and leaving their family behind and staying, have chosen to stay, citing their inability to be separated from their loved ones and dependents. Such was the case with a British NHS doctor, who’s father is also a former NHS doctor, and now currently stuck in Sudan. The doctor, using the alias Dr. A as she feared her identity would endanger her family, told the Guardian of her father’s refusal to leave Sudan because he was informed that his elderly mother would not be able to board the evacuation plane with him.


This is in stark contrast with the governments previous “Ukraine Family Scheme” policy for those escaping the violence in Ukraine, where the evacuations extended to nephews and nieces, mothers and fathers-in-law, and even grandparents-in law. When asked by the BBC why that was the case, and if opening safe passages for asylum-seekers and refugees to the UK would happen, the home secretary replied that the “situation is very different” and that they are still in the “early days” and the priority now are “British nationals and passport holders,” whereas the Family scheme was launched 5 days into the Ukraine war. Another person who was victim to this policy was was an NHS doctor, Dr. Abdulrahman Babiker,  initially refused boarding on an evacuation flight in Khartoum, despite working in Manchester Royal Infirmary and having a valid UK work permit, as he did not possess a British passport. Dr. Babiker, since then, has been allowed to evacuate on a British plane after wide-spread media controversy and public pressure, but has spoken about how he knows at least three other NHS doctors who weren’t able to get to the evacuation point before the last plane left . There is currently a petition circulating to for government to create a similar Family support scheme, as done with Ukraine, to support those wanting to find safe and legal routes to the country.