A new report by the Aegis Trust backs up calls for a moratorium on deportations from the UK of Darfuri asylum seekers.
The Aegis Trust, which coordinates the Project Darfur campaign, has published Lives in our Hands: Darfuri asylum seekers facing removal to Khartoum, a painstakingly researched 55-page dossier. Researched and edited by David M Brown, it contains the accounts of twenty-six asylum seekers, all of whose claims have been refused by the Home Office. It provides case studies of the use of excessive force during removals. It presents extracts from ‘Reasons for Refusal’ letters which reveal the Home Office’s unpardonable errors in assessing the human rights situation in Darfur, as well as its culture of disbelief which leads to the argument that a genocide survivor must be lying because he survived! Essential background information on the violence against African minorities by the Janjaweed Arab militia supported by a government policy of ‘Arabisation’ is also included.
The central accusation that the Aegis Trust levels at the Home Office is that it has failed to recognise the true nature of a genocidal crisis in which Arab militia, with support from Sudanese government forces, have identified the African population as racially inferior and a threat and sought – successfully – to destroy, remove them from, or control them within Darfur. In extracts from a ‘Reasons for Refusal’ letter sent in early 2003, we learn that the Home Office initially characterised the violence as ‘tribal fighting’, with ‘no evidence of genocide of systematic persecution’ and ‘no evidence that the government is targeting groups on the basis of their ethnicity’. Nothing much has changed since 2003. In February 2005, Ismail Mohamed Jabor was told in an Appeal Determination that the conflict in Darfur was essentially a ‘rural conflict over land ownership and grazing rights’.
Another allegation made against the Home Office and the Immigration Appeals Tribunal is that they have made little provision for Darfuris to be interviewed and offered translation in their own languages. The primary languages of the Darfuris are Fur, Zaghawar or Masseleit, but the Home Office provides Arabic translators from the Middle East or North Africa (who do not even speak the same Arabic dialect as that used by the Africans as a second language in Darfur). The case of Bakery Elzin Mohammed demonstrates that some Arab translators can be hostile to claims that Africans were tortured by Arab militia. Bakery says that the Arabic translator at his interview was not from Sudan and that when he began his account the translator said, ‘You are a liar and I will make sure you go back if you don’t tell the truth’.
Today, Darfuri asylum seekers’ claims are being systematically rejected on the grounds that it is safe for Darfuris in Sudan, as long as they are returned to areas outside Darfur. Hatern Mohammed Hussain, a 25-year-old cattle farmer who lost most of his family in the genocide, begs to disagree. He was returned to Khartoum in October 2003 and was immediately arrested by the police, who accused him of being a spy and tortured him. On one occasion he was left in a gas-filled room; on another he was bound and hung by the ankles and wrists from a ceiling fan. The Aegis Trust also provides a description of an attack by Khartoum police on a camp which housed 750 Darfuris who had fled to the capital. None of the displaced people have been heard of since, and it is feared that those who did not escape have either been imprisoned or killed.
Fear pervades this report. It is there in the memories of young men who ‘saw everyone they loved and everything they had, burned, raped, shot, stolen, scattered to the desert winds, simply because of who they were’. To this is added hunger and homelessness in the UK and the fear of return to ‘the regime that engineered their destruction in the first place’. Some fifty years after the Holocaust, we are closing the doors to the African victims of genocide. The Aegis Trust has made it impossible for us to argue that we simply didn’t know.