The first British citizens were evacuated from conflict-torn Sudan on Tuesday.
According to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, a 72-hour ceasefire between the warring factions has provided a window for foreign nationals to escape a “dangerous, volatile and unpredictable” situation.
Several ceasefires declared since the outbreak of fighting on April 15 have not been observed, the Associated Press reports.
Here’s a look at what we know about the evacuation plans, so far.
– Why are people being evacuated from Sudan?
Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands injured in a bloody conflict between the Sudanese army and a powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces.
The prospect of airlifting large numbers of people out of Sudan has been complicated by the fact that most major airports have been turned into battlefields, while leaving the capital has proven dangerous.
The current explosion of violence comes after two generals fell out over a recent internationally negotiated deal with democracy activists, which was aimed at incorporating the RSF into the army and eventually leading to civilian rule.
A stream of European, Middle Eastern, African and Asian military planes flew all day Sunday and Monday to transport hundreds of diplomats.
For many Sudanese, the departure of foreigners and the closure of embassies is a frightening sign that international powers expect an upsurge in the fighting that has already led the population to disaster.
The Sudanese have desperately sought ways to escape the chaos, fearing that the rival factions would escalate their all-out battle for power once the evacuations are complete.
– Who has been evacuated so far?The first flight carrying UK citizens landed at Larnaca airport in Cyprus with 39 people on board on Tuesday, the BBC reported.
Two more flights with around 220 people are expected overnight.
The first flight to take British civilians out of the war-torn nation was carrying everyone at the airfield who was eligible, Rishi Sunak said.
Sunak told the announcers: “The first flight took everyone who was there at the airfield and they could be prosecuted.
“In fact, we have two more flights tonight, and then many more tomorrow, that will be able to evacuate several hundred people if they can get to the airfield.”
– How many Brits could be evacuated?A “just over 2,000” British citizens in Sudan have registered with the Foreign Office, Downing Street has said, citing the latest figures.
The prime minister said “more than a thousand” UK citizens in Sudan have been contacted about the evacuation plans, and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) officials have already spoken directly to hundreds.
Defense Minister Ben Wallace said 99% of British citizens who have registered with the Foreign Office are in the capital Khartoum.
The Foreign Office has urged British passport holders and their immediate family members to proceed to the Wadi Saeedna airfield north of the city to board evacuation flights.
– Can everyone be evacuated?
The Foreign Office has urged UK passport holders and their immediate family members to proceed to Wadi Saeedna airfield north of Khartoum to board evacuation flights.
Wallace told Channel 4 News that so far there are no huge queues at the airfield to try to escape.
He said: “What we have learned from watching the German and French evacuation is, first of all, this is not like Kabul, there are not thousands at the gate, and people are making their way. They are being prosecuted.”
The Prime Minister has announced that many more flights are expected on Wednesday.
– How are they being evacuated?The plan is likely to involve the use of A400M and C-130 Hercules transport aircraft to transport citizens, with flights between the airfield and RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.
Wallace said the Royal Marines are also evaluating a possible evacuation by sea from the “more benign environment” of Port Sudan, some 500 miles from the capital.
HMS Lancaster and RFA Cardigan Bay have been dispatched to the region.
– Who is helping British citizens to escape the fighting?About 120 British servicemen are at the airfield near Khartoum being used for the evacuation effort, Wallace said.
The UK will take over from German forces in charge of the airfield on Wednesday with only one nation capable of facilitating the airfield at a time.
Germany said it was operating its final flight on Tuesday night following the evacuation of around 500 people from 30 countries.
Wallace also told Channel 4 news that there is “some risk that some of the planes are not full.”
He added: “We’ve seen that on German planes and then they’ve resorted, understandably, to taking other foreign colleagues there if there’s room.”
– Is the air base safe and secure?Downing Street said the British army was ready to defend the airfield in Sudan, but said efforts would be made to avoid “active engagement” with other forces.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “It is worth emphasizing that international evacuations have been taking place since Sunday and we have not seen any significant problems… or the appearance of large crowds.”
– How long do British citizens have to fly out of Sudan?
Sunak said he could not “guarantee” the long-term security of the air route used given the volatility of the ceasefire, but other options were being considered.
The evacuation of UK citizens from Sudan is “inherently dangerous” as it is unclear how long the ceasefire will hold, James Cleverly said.
The Foreign Secretary began a keynote address at the Lord Mayor’s Easter Banquet in London by addressing the conflict on Tuesday.
He said: “Unsurprisingly, I have been in Cobra meetings and other meetings about our response to this situation today. I can inform you that a Royal Air Force flight has left Sudan taking British nationals to safety tonight and more will follow.
“Since the beginning of this crisis, we have been planning how to get our people out. And now that our international calls and our calls for a ceasefire in Khartoum have been heeded, we are putting those plans into practice, prioritizing those most in need, family groups, the sick and the elderly.
“I am encouraged that both factions have called a 72-hour ceasefire. Of course, we can’t be sure how long it will hold up. And any evacuation of a battle-scarred city is inherently dangerous.
“Britain is working hand in hand with our partners around the world and, following this operation, we will do everything we can together with our friends in the region to secure a lasting solution to this tragic conflict.”