NHS doctors trapped in Sudan have reportedly been told they can make their way to safety on UK evacuation flights, but have just hours to get to the airfield.
It comes after a doctors’ union called for NHS medics without UK passports to be included in the airlifts that have so far evacuated more than 1,000 British nationals out of the stricken country.
British nationals trapped in Sudan have until midday on Saturday local time to get on a flight before they stop, ministers have announced. Oliver Dowden, the deputy prime minister, said on Friday night more than 1,500 people had been flown out, and there had been a “significant decline in British nationals coming forward”, meaning it was time to end the operation.
The BBC reported that the Department of Health and Social Care sent a message on Friday night to NHS doctors in Sudan, telling them to go to Wadi Seidna airfield, north of the capital, Khartoum, for evacuation. Wadi Seidna, a military base with a rough airstrip, is about 15 miles (24km) north of the city.
The staff who have leave to remain in the UK were told to bring dependents and proof of NHS employment.
Earlier, the British Medical Association urged the foreign secretary, James Cleverly, to allow the evacuation of NHS medics who are being prevented from joining the British effort because they do not have UK passports.
Dr Abdulrahman Babiker, a Sudanese-born registrar at Manchester Royal Infirmary, told Newsnight he was prevented from flying back to the UK after arriving at the Wadi Seidna airbase, from where RAF evacuation flights were departing.
The doctor said he had worked in the UK throughout the Covid crisis and felt “totally betrayed” by the ban on holders of work visas, which has continued all week despite repeated lobbying efforts from medical groups and unions.
Doctors and nurses from around the world work in the NHS, including 1,253 from Sudan, according to figures collected by the House of Commons library. Several had travelled to Sudan during Ramadan, which ended just over a week ago.
The scramble for the airfield comes amid a tense security situation, with multiple air strikes and shelling reported across Khartoum on Saturday morning despite a ceasefire led by the regional organisation the Intergovernmental Government Authority on Development IGAD.
A number of Qur’anic school pupils were injured on Friday evening as a result of an airstrike on Omdurman East, residents in the area said.
Akram Ahmed, from Wad-Nwabwai, close to the el-Said Abdulrahman mosque where the airstrike took place said: “It was strong sound of airstrike this morning, made people wake up and run, but last night a fragment from an anti-aircraft hit the mosque to injure two pupils, now they took them out and emptied the boarding Qur’anic school.”
Khartoum residents near the military headquarters and the international airport reported hearing clashes until 3am on Saturday.
With Zeinab Mohammed Salih in Omdurman