Evacuation is almost over, says foreign secretary

A group of British nationals being evacuated from Sudan

The UK government organised a series of evacuation flights from Sudan for British nationals during the ceasefire last week

The UK is ending its air evacuation in Sudan, with the focus shifting to increased humanitarian aid, the foreign secretary has said.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, James Cleverly warned any further relief efforts were likely to be impeded by continuing conflict.

Fighting in the country is in its third week, with thousands of people fleeing since the conflict broke out.

UK support is continuing in Port Sudan from where remaining Britons can leave.

Fighting erupted last month between the Sudanese military and paramilitary group the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) as they wrestled for control of the country – with the capital Khartoum at the centre of the heaviest fighting.

More than 100,000 people have fled the country since fighting broke out on 15 April, the United Nations has said, with a further 334,000 people displaced within Sudan.

Officials are warning of an “all-out catastrophe” if fighting does not end.

Last week, a negotiated, short-term ceasefire allowed UK evacuation flights to take off from an airstrip near the Khartoum, from Tuesday onwards – while the fragile ceasefire held.

As of 16:30 GMT on Monday, the UK had evacuated 2,197 people from Sudan. The UK government described its operation as the “longest and largest airlift” by any Western nation.

On Monday evening, two additional evacuation flights carrying mainly British nationals took off from Port Sudan on the Red Sea.

The latest truce had been due to end at midnight on Sunday, but the RSF said the ceasefire had been extended for another three days.

“We have conducted an extensive evacuation operation which … is still ongoing,” Mr Cleverly told the Today programme.

“But I think we’ve done the majority of what we need to do there.”

The foreign secretary described the challenge in Sudan as “evolving”, with the UK maintaining a presence in Port Sudan – both consular and military, in the guise of of the Royal Navy warship HMS Lancaster – to help remaining British nationals and their dependents.

He said the UK had been a humanitarian partner to Sudan prior to the conflict, and would continue to provide “ongoing support” working with “the UN and other international partners”.

“We have to look at what the circumstances are [and] what our ability to deliver that support is going to be,” Mr Cleverly told the BBC, adding that the UK government was working “in close cooperation with leaders in the region and beyond” to extend the ceasefire.

“Where there is a live conflict, our ability to provide that humanitarian support is massively degraded,” he added.

He said the UK would “continue to push for… a permanent end to the conflict because that is the best way to maximise the effectiveness of our humanitarian support”, but cautioned “the nature and scale will be very much dependent on the circumstances on the ground”.

Migration bill

Asked about how the UK was likely to deal with a surge in the number of Sudanese refugees to the UK, the foreign secretary said provisions for “safe and legal” routes were included in the Illegal Migration Bill, which currently is before the House of Lords.

“The nature of those routes is yet to be decided,” Mr Cleverly said. “The point I would also make is that Sudan is not the only live conflict in the world.

“Sadly there are millions of people, many millions of people, who are living in countries that have conflict. And the nature and scale of the support that we give to refugees has to be done in the round.

“We can’t just focus on Sudan.”

On Sky News, Mr Cleverly was asked about the potential use of RAF Wethersfield airfield, which is in his Essex constituency, to house any asylum seekers.

In the past he has expressed his opposition to the plans.

“Of course, no-one would want a facility like that in their constituency … but the point I’m saying is that the legislation we are putting through is to reduce the need for facilities like that.”

He said the Illegal Migration Bill would speed up processing of migrants.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday, Labour leader Keir Starmer said the creation of safe routes for those fleeing Sudan is a “conversation we need to start… sooner rather than later”.

Meanwhile, the BBC has announced the launch of an emergency radio service to be broadcast into Sudan.

The pop-up radio service, to be broadcast twice daily for three months on the BBC World Service, will provide “crucial” news and information for people based in the war-torn African nation.

It will include eyewitness accounts and news on diplomatic efforts, the BBC said, and help counter disinformation.

Source by [author_name]

Related Articles

Back to top button