The UK government has been criticized for not learning lessons from its withdrawal from Afghanistan in its failure to extract British citizens trapped in Sudan.
London sent troops to rescue its diplomatic team from the capital Khartoum amid deadly clashes on Sunday, but Alicia Kearns, chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said 3,000-4,000 UK nationals remain in Sudan, and “well over 1,000” had requested help leaving the country.
Kearns cited poor communication from the government to UK citizens as proof that sufficient progress had not been made following the Afghanistan
withdrawal in August 2021.
“We have a moral obligation to tell British nationals as soon as possible that (evacuating the diplomatic staff) is the judgment that has been made, because they then need to make their own decisions,” she told the BBC, adding that nationals who had registered with the Foreign Office had received just two automated messages from UK authorities since fighting broke out last week, with limited advice.
“That would suggest no lessons have been learned from Afghanistan
and I have urged the government to make sure they are communicating regularly with British nationals. The reality is that, unlike other countries, we have thousands (of nationals in Sudan) so perhaps sometimes phoning around is terribly difficult,” she added.
“The focus now has to move to getting our British nationals out using the one airstrip available for evacuations.
“We do have Hercules and other aircraft that are capable of landing on land that is not a formal land strip. Some of our Arab partners are using a land convoy and a boat.”
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak held talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on Sunday on international efforts to secure a ceasefire in Sudan.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly warned that help available for extracting UK nationals from Sudan remains “extremely limited” despite the successful evacuation of diplomatic staff.
He said the only possibility for improving the situation would be a ceasefire agreement between the Sudanese Armed Forces, under the command of Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
Cleverly added that the mission to rescue embassy staff had been “complex and rapid,” and that “specific threats and violence directed towards diplomats” had prompted the UK to expedite the extraction process.
He said the UK is “absolutely committed to supporting” Britons trapped amid the fighting, but the government is “severely limited” in its ability to provide assistance.
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said all three branches of the UK armed forces had been involved in the diplomatic extraction, using a C-130 Hercules and Airbus A400M transport aircraft.
The chair of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, Tobias Ellwood, said over 1,000 military personnel had been mobilized for the extraction of UK diplomatic staff, and the government should now move to “phase two” of extracting Britons.
Those still in Sudan criticized the government’s response to the crisis. One businessman in Sudan who gave his name as Sam told the BBC that the situation on the ground is “a nightmare for those of us left behind,” and that while the evacuation of UK diplomats had given many Britons in the country hope, “in the absence of any information from the government this was clearly a solution for diplomats only.”
Another UK citizen, who gave his name as William, told the BBC: “We had to basically go private, we’ve had absolutely nothing but nonsense from the government and not even nonsense. We’ve had nothing.
“The internet’s just gone out, so we’ve been on 3G all day. And we were all running out of data. And so communication was becoming increasingly difficult.”
William said he and others had sourced a bus to flee to Egypt, but described a “dicey situation” in Khartoum with “gunfire going off all the time.”
He added: “We’re making quite slow progress but steady progress. So the idea is we continue going for the next two days, up to the Egyptian border, and then we’re sort of safe.”