EXCLUSIVE British mother who escaped wartorn Sudan with her children reveals heartbreak at leaving husband behind – as her uncle slams the UK government saying it ‘should have done more’ to get people out of Khartoum
- Jennifer McLellan, a teacher from Islay, was caught in gunfire with her family
- They have had to leave her husband Mohamed in Sudan to care for his parents
A British mother of four has told of her family’s heartbreak at having to leave her husband in wartorn Sudan after a harrowing journey to safety, as she and her children reunite with family in Scotland.
Jennifer McLellan, a teacher from Islay, was caught up in gunfire along with her two young daughters and sons as they made the intense journey through Khartoum this week.
The 36-year-old mother said that while her family is relieved to be safe, they fear for her husband Mohamed, who has bravely stayed behind to protect his elderly grandmother and family.
Mohamed drove the family through dangerous backroads until their car broke down, forcing them to barter to get a lift to the UK evacuation point at the Wadi Seidna Air Base.
Now her family has slammed what her uncle described as the UK government’s ‘dereliction of duty’ in getting people safely to the airport, amid a fragile ceasefire between the Sudanese military and militia groups.
Jennifer McLellan with her husband Mohamed and their four children at home in Sudan. The Scottish mother has now fled the country with her children, but left Mohamed behind
Jennifer and her four children, two girls aged three and eight and two boys aged 13 and 15, after landing at Stansted Airport on Wednesday
Speaking from her mother’s home in Islay, Jennifer said: ‘We are so relieved to be back home safely in Scotland. It has been a difficult journey to get here.’
‘We are obviously heartbroken to have left Mohamed behind and we pray for his safety and that we will be reunited some day soon.
‘We cant even bare to think about the danger that he is still in. And many others still trapped in Sudan.’
Jennifer, who has lived in Sudan for 15 years and raised her family there, said: ‘The future for us is unknown as we have left our whole lives behind.
‘We have literally came with the clothes we are wearing and a few hastily packed items in a carryon bag. We have to get some rest and see what our next steps will be.’
Tens of thousands of people are streaming out of the north African country, including hundreds of British citizens, amid armed conflict between Sudan’s army and the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary force, which has seen indiscriminate clashes and hundreds killed.
Jennifer’s uncle, Donald Gillies, said the government should have done more to help the family and others trapped in Sudan to get to safety, as people have been told they must make their own way to the airbase.
‘Without a shadow of a doubt the government should have done more, it was, in my opinion, a dereliction of duty,’ he said.
‘The way the diplomats fled the country. The military went in to their houses to take them and their children out but the normal civilians are seen as of lesser importance.’
He labelled the government’s communication to British citizens ‘chaos’ and said that people should have been warned about potential conflict in the country, as US citizens had prior to the fighting breaking out.
The 36-year-old teacher and her kids are now safe at her mother’s home in Islay
‘There are massive failings. Diplomacy has failed, government planning has failed, it is coming good because of our military might.’
The government and armed forces have defended the lack of escort for British citizens attempting to get to the airstrip, with Rishi Sunak saying earlier this week that diplomats and their families were brought to safety as they had been specific targets.
Jennifer said her family were very well looked after on the way to the UK and thanked the armed forces at Wadi Seidna for their tireless work helping to get people out.
The English teacher moved to the north African country after meeting Mohamed as a student in Glasgow over 15 years ago.
Now they have no idea when they will be reunited, as Mohamed remains in Sudan to care for his grandmother, mother and family as the violence continues.
The family’s plight was first highlighted by Donald, who said his niece is still trying to wrap her head around how fortunate she was to escape.
‘It’s all overwhelming, the journey to the airport was very traumatic and I think that brought everything home – how lucky she is and how good our armed forces are,’ he said.
‘Once they got to the airport, they were safe, the problem was getting to the airport.’.
Jennifer, Mohamed and their young family, two daughters aged three and eight and two sons aged 13 and 15, were under gunfire as they made the treacherous journey to the airport on Tuesday.
Mohamed took advice to drive his Jeep through the back roads to avoid fighting but got a puncture in and was unable to continue, Donald explained.
The young family then got a lift the rest of the way with two men, who Donald says would only help them if they handed over around £300 in cash.
The mother said that while her family is relieved to be safe, they fear for her husband, who has bravely stayed behind to protect his elderly grandmother and family
But the family were by no means out of danger, as Donald explained: ‘When they were driving around the backroads one rebel faction was retreating under gunfire, so they were caught up there in the crossfire of a retreating unit that had clearly broken the ceasefire terms.’
Jennifer’s uncle said she and her family would have been scared for their lives. ‘They must have been terrified as soon as they heard gunfire around them, as soon as their vehicle broke down, because that made them rely on other people.’
‘They would have been very scared to run that gauntlet, to rely on people who are trying to destabilise the country.’
British nationals walk to board an RAF aircraft, during the evacuation to Cyprus, at Wadi Seidna Air Base
Donald, an ex-serviceman, also said that Jennifer is unlikely to have known the extent of the danger to her life.
‘Because Jennifer is a beautiful-looking white woman, she was a high, high target for kidnapping.
‘There are many things going on behind the scenes that Jennifer doesn’t even know how much risk she was in.’
He paid tribute to Mohamed’s courage, getting his family to safety and then going back into the war-ravaged country to protect his parents, despite him being able to flee as the spouse of a British citizen.
‘What I can’t believe is that Mohamed drove back to his parents. He didn’t get back until around one in the morning. I’m absolutely gobsmacked at his bravery.
More than 1,500 people have been evacuated from Sudan, the ‘vast majority’ of whom are British nationals
Images from AFPTV video show a view over Khartoum, where black smoke could be seen rising above the city despite the extended ceasefire
‘My sister spoke to him to thank him on behalf of the family, he is part of the family.
‘He is a man of peace and he stayed to look after his family and do as much good in this country as he can.’
Jennifer said Mohamed is at home with his family and currently safe, but fears that fighting in the country is intensifying as the end of the extended ceasefire draws near.
The final British plane is due to depart today from Khartoum today, with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office urging those left in Sudan to travel to the airbase before 12pm local time to be processed in time.
Some 1,573 people on 13 flights have so far been evacuated, but thousands more British citizens and their dependents are believed to remain.
The Foreign Office has been contacted for comment.
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