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On 15 April 2023 fighting broke out in the Sudanese capital Khartoum between the Sudanese Armed Forces and a paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces (see box 1).

At least 604 people have been killed, over 730,000 people are internally displaced and 177,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries in the 26 days since the fighting began.

The UK Government’s response has been two-fold: to support British nationals in Sudan, and to pursue diplomatic efforts to end the fighting and enable humanitarian support to reach those in need.

Working with allies

Andrew Mitchell, the Minister for International Development and Africa, says the Government is “pursuing all diplomatic avenues to end the violence and de-escalate tensions“.

The UK is working with a number of other countries and organisations, including its Troika (UK, US and Norway) and Quad (UK, US, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates) partners.

The UK is calling for the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) to:

  • agree a lasting ceasefire and de-escalate tensions
  • allow humanitarian access
  • comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law
  • ensure the protection of civilians, humanitarian and medical workers.

The UK has also endorsed an African Union-led Communiqué which calls for the “immediate resumption of the political process, through dialogue and negotiations, towards the establishment of an inclusive, democratic transitional civilian-led government.”

The UK is also supporting the diplomatic efforts of the African Union, UN and IGAD, an East African regional grouping of countries. Collectively they are known as the Trilateral Mechanism and are working to develop a plan to de-escalate the situation in Sudan.

Humanitarian aid

At the outset of the fighting, Andrew Mitchell warned that the number of Sudanese in need of humanitarian assistance, then estimated at 16 million, would likely “rise significantly”. 

On 2 May the Government announced £5 million in aid to help meet “the urgent needs of those fleeing the violence”. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said the UK has contributed “more than £250 million in humanitarian aid in the past 5 years.”

MPs have expressed concern about the scarcity of food and water and the potential for a worsening humanitarian crisis.

Evacuation of British nationals

The UK evacuated 2,450 British and other nationals from Sudan on 30 flights between 25 April and 3 May 2023. The Government had previously evacuated British embassy staff and dependents from Khartoum in an overnight operation on 22 to 23 April 2023.

MPs raised concerns about the plans for, and pace of, the evacuation of British nationals. Some reported frustration from British nationals with difficulties in communicating with the FCDO, the comparative speed of other nations in evacuating their nationals, and eligibility requirements.

Some MPs questioned whether the Government had learnt the lessons of the evacuation of Kabul in 2021. Andrew Mitchell replied that the situations were not analogous, but the Government would review the evacuation to “make sure that everything possible is learned from it”.

There have been some calls for the Government to introduce special arrangements to enable some Sudanese citizens to travel to the UK.

Who is fighting and why?

On 15 April 2023 fighting broke out between the Sudanese armed forces (SAF) and a paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The armed forces is led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who heads the ruling military council, and his deputy General Mohamed Hamden Dagalo (also known as Hemedti) is leading the RSF.

Both men participated in the coup that deposed long-time President Omar al-Bashir in 2019. They oversaw the subsequent civilian-led joint military government that was set up to transition Sudan to democratic rule. However, in October 2021 they deposed that government and took power directly in a coup.

During this time, tensions between the two men over Sudan’s future emerged. The armed forces and RSF had operated alongside each other, but as separate forces, under former President Bashir.

A framework agreement by the military leadership and prominent civilian leaders in December 2022 called for, among other things, the integration of the RSF into the armed forces. This has been cited as one of the drivers of the current fighting, including by the UK Government, with the two men disagreeing over the timetable and process. 

Both men have powerful support networks and both the army and RSF are well trained and well equipped.

The paper will be updated but may not reflect latest developments. The situation in Sudan is fluid and those affected should check with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) for updates.

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