The British evacuation mission from Sudan has lifted 301 people to safety over four flights as the military races against time to rescue citizens while a fragile ceasefire holds.
Another four RAF flights were expected to depart the Wadi Saeedna airstrip near the capital Khartoum on Wednesday afternoon, as the first flight of UK nationals arrived back in Britain.
Military chiefs have told Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at least 500 people a day can be airlifted and they can continue “for as long as we need to” even if the 72-hour pause in fighting agreed between rival generals breaks.
But British citizens in Sudan have described having to make a chaotic and dangerous journey to the airstrip they have been told to make without a military escort.
More than 2,000 British nationals have registered in Sudan under evacuation plans, but thousands more could be in the country.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the operation in Khartoum is “running smoothly”, while there is currently “no issue with capacity”.
He told journalists that 301 people have been lifted to safety on four flights, with the total number of RAF planes to depart Khartoum due to double on Wednesday.
The official said the “majority” of the people on the planes were British nationals but that some will be citizens of allied countries.
He had not been informed of “large-scale problems” of non-British passport holders turning up and being told they are not eligible.
Despite nationals being told to make their own way to the airstrip, he said “we are not seeing those who are making that travel having significant issues”.
“It’s complete anarchy right now, complete chaos. Anyone can rob you, anyone can shoot you,” he told the PA news agency.
Downing Street hopes to carry on with flights throughout the week and does not believe there will be a need to “leave the airport imminently”.
The ceasefire has largely held since it began in the early hours of Monday.
Brigadier Dan Reeve, chief of joint force operations, said at least 500 people can be lifted from the airstrip every day and that the evacuation window is “not conditional on that ceasefire holding”.
“I can see no reason at the moment why we can’t continue to do that for as long as the Prime Minister wants us to,” he told journalists.
The first flight of British nationals arrived back in London Stansted on Wednesday afternoon, having left Larnaca in Cyprus, where they were initially evacuated.
Mr Sunak was asked by the SNP’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn whether he would deport child refugees who arrive in the UK without authorisation under plans to “stop the boats”.
The Prime Minister told the Commons of the country’s “proud record” of supporting asylum seekers, but did not commit to a new safe and legal route for those fleeing Sudan.
But with UK nationals being told to make their own way to evacuation sites, that trip would be made particularly challenging by fuel shortages and the traffic of people fleeing.
In an apparent swipe at the UK’s approach, German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said Berlin would not leave civilians “to their own devices” as it completed its evacuation.
She said that “unlike in other countries”, Germany’s evacuation had included all its nationals and not just embassy staff, whom the UK airlifted to safety on Sunday.
The Prime Minister has argued it was “right” that diplomats were prioritised “because they were being targeted”.
A UK-born student attempting to flee Sudan said she does not have enough petrol to make the dangerous one-hour drive from the outskirts of Khartoum to the airstrip.
Samar Eltayeb, 20, from Birmingham, told the PA news agency: “I’m trying to get there.
“There’ll be constant flights within the next few days, but if I can’t find gas to get there, then I’m stuck.”
British forces are expected to take over command of the operation in Wadi Saeedna from German troops on Wednesday.
Some 160 British service personnel have been sent to the airfield, but the security of the site is being maintained by the Sudanese armed forces.
The military is ready to use force if needed if the site comes under attack, although the troops are primarily there to help with logistics and providing air traffic control.
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.
Nationals have been warned all travel within Sudan is “conducted at your own risk”.