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UK says nearly 1,900 people airlifted out of Sudan

LONDON – The UK said Saturday it was readying its final evacuation flight for British citizens from war-torn Sudan, airlifting nearly 1,900 people out during fragile ceasefires.

But some of those fleeing the fighting between warlords in Sudan, now in its third week, said they had been forced by the British government’s rules to leave relatives behind.

The Royal Air Force (RAF) flights began on Tuesday from the Wadi Saeedna airfield north of Khartoum, limited initially to UK passport holders and immediate relatives who have British residency.

But after strong criticism at home, the government late Friday allowed Sudanese doctors working in Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) to join the flights.

Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell denied the government was abandoning anyone in Sudan, after it was accused by opposition parties of repeating the mistakes of its chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“I don’t think there’s a single Brit in Khartoum who won’t know about the evacuation and the flow of people who’ve been coming to the airport indicate that that is correct,” he told the BBC in Nairobi.

But Mitchell added: “We can’t stay there forever in such dangerous circumstances.”

Some 2,000 Britons in Sudan had signed on to a Foreign Office list, and anyone eligible was given until Saturday morning to reach the airfield for processing and boarding of the final flights.

A total of 1,888 have been taken out on 21 flights, including on the final one due to depart Wadi Saeedna later Saturday, the Foreign Office said.

The eligibility criteria still left UK nationals with family in Sudan facing the choice of coming home or staying, despite the risks, if their relatives had no right of residency in Britain.

And more than 20 NHS medics from Sudan were initially told they could not board the flights because they were not British nationals, UK media reported.

Sudanese doctor Abdulrahman Babiker, who works in a hospital in the northern English city of Manchester, was one of those refused a place at first before he was allowed to join an RAF flight to Cyprus.

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