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Sudan: Second evacuation flight of Britons lands in Cyprus

By Caroline Hawley, Kathy Long & Andre Rhoden-Paul in Larnaca and London

A second evacuation flight rescuing UK nationals from war-torn Sudan has landed in Cyprus.

The passengers and a further 39 from an earlier rescue flight on Tuesday are expected to be given the chance to fly to the UK from Larnaca Airport later.

British troops are attempting to get UK nationals out of the east African country during a 72-hour ceasefire.

The BBC was told 39 people were flown out on the first RAF plane – and three rescue flights are planned in total.

Trapped British nationals had been told to make their own way to an airstrip near Sudanese capital Khartoum, once it was clear the ceasefire that began at midnight local time (22:00 GMT) on Monday was holding.

An RAF military plane is being used to pick up British passport holders from the airstrip and fly them to Lanarca Airport where their documentation is checked. The RAF plane then refuels, before returning to Sudan to pick up the next batch waiting at the airstrip.

A total of 260 people has been expected on the flights but the Foreign Office has yet to confirm how many people made it on to the second plane, which arrived at Larnaca in the early hours of Wednesday.

The Foreign Office have said its aim is that the evacuees will only be in Cyprus for less than 48 hours before they can take up the option of flying to the UK.

It is thought there is only a small window of relative safety for this evacuation effort to exploit.

Among the first group of evacuees to arrive in Cyprus were families with young children, some of them newborns, who were greeted by the Cypriot Red Cross which provided food and toiletries.

They have spent the night in Larnaca and will travel to London on a charter flight set to depart in the morning.

A British man whose sister managed to be evacuated overnight told the BBC she felt an overwhelming sense of relief to have managed to escape a city 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.

It is not clear why more British passport holders have not been on the flights so far, but we know of one NHS doctor who is visiting an elderly mother, who herself doesn’t have a UK visa so there is a reluctance to leave her behind.

Around 120 British troops are supporting the evacuation at the Wadi Saeedna airstrip. Downing Street said the British military will defend the airfield in Sudan but clarified efforts would be made to avoid “active engagement” with other forces.

Clashes between the Sudanese army and paramilitary group the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) began on 15 April. Hundreds of people have since died and thousands have been injured in the conflict.

Airlifting large numbers of people out of Sudan has been complicated by major airports becoming battlegrounds, and movement out of the capital has been perilous.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace previously told LBC Radio there was “some risk that some of the planes are not full” as there were “not thousands at the gate” like the evacuation from Afghanistan two years ago.

The government is also considering a seaborne evacuation from Port Sudan, some 500 miles from the capital. HMS Lancaster and RFA Cardigan Bay have been sent to the region.

A relative of a British-Sudanese elderly couple told BBC Radio 4’s World Tonight that the couple risked getting shot if they leave the house, but risk starving if they stay.

Yasmin Sholgami, from west London, said it was 10 days since she had managed to speak with her grandparents, who live opposite the British Embassy in the Sudanese capital.

She said when she last spoke to her British national grandfather, 89, and grandmother, 75 and his spouse, they did not have food, water or electricity.

Young children were among the British nationals to arrive at Lanarca International Airport

She described where they live as a “hotpot for fighting” and it would be “impossible for her grandparents to move”.

More than 2,000 British citizens have registered in Sudan with the Foreign Office, .

Families with children or elderly relatives, or individuals with medical conditions, are being prioritised for the flights.

Only British passport holders and immediate family members with existing UK entry clearance are being told they are eligible for the evacuation flights.

On Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visited the Foreign Office’s crisis centre in London, which is overseeing the evacuation efforts. He told staff that “the next 24 hours are absolutely critical”.

Speaking to the media, he added: “The security situation on the ground in Sudan is complicated, it is volatile and we wanted to make sure we could put in place processes that are going to work for people, that are going to be safe and effective.”

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