'We had to leave my elderly mum behind in Sudan’
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The UK has started evacuating British nationals from Sudan, where intense fighting between rival military forces has been raging for over a week.
People have been told to make their own way to an airfield near the capital Khartoum. It is a potentially perilous journey in the middle of a precarious ceasefire, leaving many Britons thinking hard about what to do.
Wathig Ali, a British citizen in Khartoum, has just reached the airstrip with his pregnant wife Haifa and his six-year-old son Oday. He took the risky decision to drive from his house to the airstrip on Wednesday morning.
"We left at around 5am. We have managed, miraculously, to reach Wadi Saeedna airbase. We are awaiting evacuation now," Mr Ali said.
But Mr Ali's mother, who is in her late 70s and "very sickly", will not be coming to the UK with them.
"British soldiers checked all our papers. I brought my mum with me but she does not have a British passport. I tried to persuade the British soldiers to let her on the plane too but they would not let her.
"It was heart-breaking that I had to say goodbye to my mum."
His wife does not have a British passport either, but their marriage certificate was accepted.
The drive to the airfield was better than expected, Mr Ali said.
Soldiers from the Sudanese army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) waved them through checkpoints, he said.
"While we drove through the streets, we saw lots of RSF soldiers but they were relaxing by the side of the road, probably because it was so early in the morning.
"It looked like they were on holiday."
There are 80 people at the airbase awaiting evacuation, plus 30 British soldiers, Mr Ali said. He added that although there were two planes already there, the soldiers would not say when they will be departing.
"It's clear we might be here until nightfall. We are thirsty and hungry," he said.
"I feel for my pregnant wife - she is acting brave. Escaping this nightmare hasn't been done yet. I hope the nightmare will end soon."
Back in the UK, families are wracked with worry about relatives in Sudan who they have not been able to contact for days due to broken lines of communication.
Some want to know how vulnerable relatives will make it to the airbase without an escort. British charity worker Yasmin Sholgami's grandparents are stranded in Khartoum without food and water.
Health issues and reports of gunfire and shelling - despite the apparent ceasefire - mean the elderly couple are unable to travel to the airbase on their own.
No-one can get to their house to take them, Ms Sholgami told the BBC on Tuesday. Each time relatives have tried, "they've been shot at by snipers".
Her grandfather is 89 and has a British passport. Her 75-year-old grandmother, who holds a British visa, has diabetes: "She can't get up and needs help from numerous people to make it to the airfield."
"Little does the government know that there are many areas in the centre of Khartoum that are too dangerous to leave your house without help from some sort of official," Ms Sholgami added.
An estimated 4,000 UK nationals are stuck in Sudan - among the highest number of foreign citizens there. Many have spent days trapped indoors with dwindling food and water supplies and no electricity or internet connection.
British nationals told the BBC on Monday - before the UK announced that it had started its evacuation effort - that they felt abandoned as other foreign nationals and British embassy workers were flown out. They also complained of poor communication from the Foreign Office's crisis centre.
Javid Abdelmoneim, whose elderly father was stuck alone in Khartoum, received a call from officials on Monday asking that his dad make his way to the airbase, about 13km (8 miles) outside of the capital.
But there was no way to know if the Foreign Office had been able to get in contact with his dad, as he himself had not been able to reach him.
"He's elderly and alone which means he's high priority, but also means he can't get to the airfield," he told the BBC.
Mr Abdelmoneim said his father ended up travelling with family members in an overland convoy on Monday to the Egyptian border.
Another UK national who chose this way out of Sudan described it as a 15-hour journey through "utter devastation" where he was stopped and robbed at gunpoint before being let go.
On Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak defended the UK government's approach to getting British citizens out of Sudan, following criticism that the Foreign Office was failing those stuck in Khartoum.
"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," Mr Sunak said.
He said more than 1,000 UK citizens in Sudan had been contacted about evacuation plans, and "many more" flights would leave on Wednesday.
Additional reporting by James Kelly, Kris Bramwell and Kayleen Devlin
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