‘UK was slower but still they saved us from Sudan’

Shereen Soliman and her children

Shereen Soliman was on holiday in Sudan visiting family with her children

After days of dread, fear and desperation, British families are now on rescue flights out of Sudan, making the 3,000-mile journey to safety.

Many are overcome with relief and exhaustion after perilous journeys across the capital, Khartoum, during a fragile ceasefire to reach the airfield. For others, they may be heading to the UK but worry continues for family left behind in the conflict-hit country.

At Larnaca Airport, in Cyprus – where Britons board a second flight – Shereen Soliman spoke of her relief at escaping Sudan.

“It was something else. I can’t even describe,” the mother and fashion designer told the BBC from the departure gates.

“It was bad, it was very bad, I even don’t want to remember it.”

Shereen was on a three-week holiday with her son Karim, 10, and eight-year-old daughter Diyalam, who were excited to be visiting family in their homeland when the fighting broke out.

“In two weeks they [her children] were asking me to go back to London.”

Karim said: “We heard lots of gunshots while we were in the house. We also heard explosions. I saw men with guns but they were friendly because they were on our team.”

But he said he was looking forward to being back in London because it was safe there.

However that has not been an option for all of the family. Others did not have the right to go to the UK with her, Shereen said.

“I had to leave my parents, my siblings, the whole family there. So I’m very worried about them. I really feel sorry for Sudan because it’s my home, my country. I wanted my kids to feel safe there.”

Asked how she felt about the British authorities’ handling of the situation compared with the French and the Germans, she said: “They were slower than the others, but still they saved us.

“That’s what matters, right?”

Her feelings were shared by fellow British national, Yahya Yahya, who has been trying to flee Sudan with his family since the fighting started 11 days ago.

He told the BBC it was “a very difficult time” and he was “thankful that we’ve finally made it to a safe place”.

“The first day that the war started [I tried to leave the country], because I wanted to try and get my kids to a safe place,” he said.

Asked about the delay in knowing that Britain would help evacuate its people, Yahya took a sharp intake of breath. “It was quite difficult, but it was ok,” he said.

Other stories have emerged of timely escapes. One British man whose sister managed to be evacuated overnight told the BBC she felt overwhelming relief to have escaped Khartoum, where food and water have become scarce because it is not safe for people to leave their homes.

He said at one point she and 13 others had only four dates and one egg left to share between them.

The UK has faced criticism for not doing enough to get Britons out of Sudan. Many foreign nationals have already been repatriated to their home countries, with countries including Germany wrapping up their evacuations on Tuesday evening.

France says all its nationals are thought to have been evacuated and it is now ready to help other countries get their people away from the conflict.

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