Foreign secretary James Cleverly has said that the government will in time create “safe and legal routes” for people fleeing conflict in Sudan, but added that he refused to “speculate on the numbers of nature of those routes”.
It is a view that contradicts that expressed by the home secretary Suella Braverman who has said the UK has “no plans” to set up routes for Sudanese refugees to come to the UK.
Currently, UK nationals stranded in Sudan have been warned the UK “cannot guarantee” how many more evacuation flights will leave Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, after the 72-hour ceasefire expires.
As of Thursday morning, the foreign secretary has confirmed that 536 Britons have been airlifted on six flights. The ceasefire between Sudan’s two warring factions is due to expire at midnight local time and there are fears the clashes that have killed hundreds of people will continue.
More than 2,000 Britons have registered with the foreign office as being in Sudan under the evacuation operation and, in a message to those still stranded in the country, Mr Cleverly told Sky News: “If you’re planning to move, move now”.
In the wake of the illegal migration bill, which passed its final stages in the House of Commons last night, Mr Cleverly turned to the issue of non-UK nationals who may want to flee the conflict in Sudan. “We cannot host everybody who is in a country plagued by war”, he said.
He said that the government’s illegal migration bill will give ministers the power to stop “unprecedented levels of illegal migration”. And he added that “picking out Sudan because it happens to be in the news diminishes the suffering of people around the world”.
Commenting on plans to create safe and legal routes for refugees fleeing conflict in Sudan, Mr Cleverly continued: “The home secretary has said, and indeed the prime minister and the rest of the government has said, we will create safe and legal routes.
“I’m not at this point going to speculate exactly the numbers and nature of those routes, but the point is we need to make it clear that we have always had safe routes; tens of thousands of people have come here through safe and legal routes”.
Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, warned on Tuesday that the Sudan crisis could lead to a surge in small boat crossings because it was likely that “very significant numbers” of people would flee the country “in the hours and days and weeks ahead”.
The United Nations said it was preparing for around 270,000 refugees to flee Sudan imminently.
The UN also criticised the comments of Suella Braverman for suggesting that refugees should contact the organisation if they wanted to legally come to Britain.
It came after the home secretary effectively ruled out introducing safe and legal routes for Sudanese asylum seekers to claim sanctuary.
“We have no plans to do that”, she said. “Our focus, first and foremost, right now, and bearing in mind this is a fast-moving situation and a complex situation, is to support British nationals and their dependents”.
In comments that were later rebuked by the UN refugee agency, she added that Sundanese people should contact the UNHCR if they wanted to legally come to Britain because “they are the right mechanism by which people should apply if they do want to seek asylum in the UK”.
Yesterday, foreign office minister Andrew Mitchell confirmed that “at the moment safe and legal routes don’t exist” for refugees from Sudan.
He added: “But the prime minister, in the changes that we are making as part of the legislation which is going through the House tonight, has said that we will be seeking to set up safe and legal routes”.
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