Sudanese NHS doctor finally allowed to return to UK

Dr Abdulrahman Babiker in the departure area of an evacuation airport near Khartoum

Abdulrahman Babiker being interviewed by the BBC as he waits to be evacuated near Khartoum

An NHS doctor who felt “betrayed” after being refused a place on a UK evacuation flight from Sudan has now been given a seat.

Abdulrahman Babiker is awaiting a flight at an airport north of Khartoum.

He told the BBC he was delighted to be leaving the country but had mixed feelings about family left behind.

He was initially turned away by officials on Thursday – he has a UK work permit but only UK passport holders were being accepted.

After contacting his MP and being advised to travel to Wadi Seidna air base, he made the perilous journey and then queued for 16 hours, only to be told he could not board.

“They said, ‘we are really sorry, this is the guidance from the Home Office’. And a soldier took me out,” he recalled.

The Foreign Office had said it was prioritising UK nationals and those in Dr Babiker’s situation needed to make their own way to the UK.

Dr Abdulrahman Babiker

Dr Abdulrahman Babiker is due back at work at the Manchester Royal Infirmary where he has been working for four years

Khartoum International Airport has been shut for almost two weeks due to fighting between two warring factions, while the borders of neighbouring countries are hundreds of miles away from the capital.

It is thought at least 24 Sudanese NHS doctors were in a similar position to Dr Babiker.

He credited the public attention his story received with the apparent change in policy.

“I got so much support from my colleagues at the hospital, from friends…. everyone knew the case,” the Manchester Royal Infirmary doctor told the BBC.

He said he was due back at work on Tuesday and was meant to have an interview about extending his contract on the same day he was speaking to BBC, but had spoken to his supervisor about his “situation”.

Despite his relief, he said he still had “mixed feelings” at leaving, as many family members are still in Khartoum.

While Dr Babiker said he felt “much better” now that he knew he was able to leave, he said the “risk” his family and friends are in has left him unable to sleep.

The registrar – who has worked in Manchester for four years – was back in Sudan visiting family for Eid when violence broke out almost two weeks ago. Rival factions within the Sudanese military are battling for control, destroying large sections of the capital Khartoum in the process and killing hundreds of civilians.

A three-day ceasefire, which was due to end on Thursday night, has been extended for another 72-hours, allowing more time for evacuation flights to leave the country and people to try and make their way to safety.

Despite this, doctors in the country say 74 people have been killed this week in the western Darfur region, and there have been reports that fighters have burnt markets, warehouses and banks in the city of El Geneina. There have also been reports of fighting between the army and rival paramilitary group – the Rapid Support Force (RSF) – in the capital.

While Dr Babiker has now been allowed a seat on an evacuation flight, it is not currently clear if there has been an explicit change in UK government policy.

Dr Babiker said he felt there was a definite difference in approach and he hoped that the UK government would rethink its policy on visas, especially when it comes to skilled workers, something he said which “needs to be re-evaluated”.

He said he had heard of other doctors having a similar experience, and that others he was in contact with had already been flown out of Sudan and landed in Cyprus. The UK has a military air base on the island and is flying people back to Britain from there.



The BBC has approached the Foreign Office for comment and is awaiting a response.

At least 512 people have been killed in the fighting and almost 4,200 injured, although the real number of deaths could be much higher.

The World Health Organization said it expected there to be “many more” deaths due to outbreaks of disease and a lack of services.

Health officials say most hospitals in conflict areas are not functioning, and more than 60% of health facilities in Khartoum are inactive.

There are a large number of people in Sudan with ties to the UK, partially due to historical links between the two countries.

Sudan was controlled as a British colony between the 1890s and 1956, when it became independent.

It is thought there are around 4,000 British nationals in Sudan, more than half of them having registered with the Foreign Office under evacuation plans. UK nationals have to make their own way to the Wadi Seidna airstrip near Khartoum unescorted to get on the evacuation flights.

As of Thursday evening, the UK had evacuated around 900 people from Sudan.

In 2020, the Office of National Statistics estimated there were around 35,000 people living in the UK who were born in Sudan, including 20,000 Sudanese nationals.

Additional reporting by Alex Binley

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