Sun, 19 May 2024

Newsletter sign-up

Subscribe now
The House Live All
Home affairs
London Luton Airport expansion will help Luton soar Partner content
Press releases

After a year of war in Sudan, there are still no safe and legal routes to the UK


4 min read

The situation in Sudan, a year after the conflict erupted, is dire. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that nearly eight million people have been displaced, whilst the United Nations characterise the situation as the "world's worst hunger crisis".

In a glaring display of neglect, the UK government has failed in its moral duty to offer any sort of expanded safe routes for those in Sudan, even those with family ties in the UK. This indifference becomes even more apparent when compared to the government’s decisive response to the conflict in Ukraine, where bespoke schemes were promptly established to facilitate family reunification for Ukrainians in the UK. While the Ukrainian response was the right thing to do, the government have not even attempted to hide the fact that they prioritised the safety of Ukrainian refugees because of their skin colour.

Former immigration minister Robert Jenrick justified the government’s inertia in Sudan by saying that they would "continue to provide safe and legal routes to the UK for those that require it". This reflects a stark detachment from reality. Many in Sudan were and are desperately seeking safe passage to reunite with their loved ones in the UK, yet the government has provided no viable pathways for them to do so. Jenrick knows this and surely cannot believe that those in Sudan do not “require” safety.

These tragedies are the inevitable result of an inflexible system that simply is not fit for purpose in conflict zones like Sudan and Gaza

The absence of safe routes has forced many from Sudan to undertake perilous journeys, as evidenced by the significant increase in small boat arrivals. Sudanese arriving by boat were the seventh highest ranked nationality in 2023.

The government's lack of response extends beyond the absence of specific visa schemes. The closure of the Khartoum Visa Application Centre (VAC) last April exacerbated the situation. With biometric enrolment at a VAC being a prerequisite for visa applications, the closure effectively rendered applying for visas impossible for individuals in Sudan.

Shockingly, the government's advice for unaccompanied children in Sudan was to travel to neighbouring countries and attend a VAC "at their own risk". The same government that has diced with declaring irregular entries to the UK a “national emergency” and with justification for leaving the European Convention on Human Rights had no problem at all encouraging unaccompanied children to undertake such irregular journeys to other African nations. Apparently, such journeys are not so problematic when made to third countries.

When the conflict erupted in April 2023, we were representing 14 individuals in Sudan, 13 of whom were unaccompanied children with strong familial ties in the UK. However, a year later, only two have been granted visas to the UK, with one case necessitating intervention from the courts after the government, with apparently no sense of irony, argued that the war did not constitute a significant change in circumstances.

With such stark options, understandably some of these children had no choice but to flee and seek alternative routes to safety. One made it as far as Libya, where he is now arbitrarily detained without trial.

A teenage girl we represent was trafficked to South Sudan, another country with no VAC. She was raped en route. In both cases, neither of these children have had the UK government consider their applications for reunification with their loved ones, as they can’t attend a VAC.

These tragedies are the inevitable result of an inflexible system that simply is not fit for purpose in conflict zones like Sudan and Gaza. Insisting on VAC attendance in conflict zones where there is no VAC effectively prevents people even applying to come to the UK. When we say there are no safe routes, we mean it.

As the Sudanese conflict fades from the headlines, the absence of safe routes remains a pressing concern. On the anniversary of the conflict, it is imperative that the UK government takes decisive action.

Implementing a scheme that enables individuals in Sudan to reunite with their UK-based family members, with reduced bureaucracy, would be a step in the right direction.


Nick Beales, head of campaigning at Refugee & Migrant Forum of Essex and London

PoliticsHome Newsletters

Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.