A Darfuri torture victim is today set to be deported back to Sudan, where she believes she could be killed, due to what her supporters claim is a "bureaucratic blunder" by the Home Office.
Abeer Awooda, a 26-year-old journalist who fled to Britain from the conflict-ridden country last July, should be entitled to asylum in the UK automatically. In 2009 a campaign by The Independent, highlighting the violent persecution of deportees in Sudan, led to the Home Office issuing operational guidance declaring that all non-Arab Darfuris should be granted asylum.
As a member of the Berti tribe, Miss Awooda – who was victimised by Khartoum's security forces for wearing trousers, and came to the UK after President Omar al-Bashiri was re-elected as President, despite him being charged with crimes against humanity by the UN – should be safe from removal.
Yet last Wednesday she was shocked to be taken into custody at Yarl's Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire, where she was told that a flight taking her back to Sudan had been booked for 3pm today. She has appealed and has since been declared a high suicide risk by a psychiatrist.
Speaking to The Independent from her room in Yarl's Wood yesterday, a tearful Miss Awooda said she feared being killed by the state police, who in 2009 murdered failed asylum seeker Adam Osman Mohammed. He was gunned down in front of his wife and children days after returning to Darfur following his deportation from the UK.
Miss Awooda also claims that her solicitor was not informed of her detention and that she had previously been left to represent herself in legal proceedings. "Where are my human rights?" she said. "If the Home Office will not let me stay here then they should give me back my passport – I would go anywhere else but I cannot go back to Sudan." The humanitarian group Waging Peace, which has been assisting Miss Awooda, believes the Home Office is to blame for not processing her asylum claims properly.
Sophie McCann, the NGO's director, said it would seek a judicial review of Miss Awooda's case if a fresh appeal is not upheld this morning.
"Waging Peace are extremely concerned that this young Darfuri woman faces being sent back to a Sudanese regime which arrested and tortured her," said Ms McCann. "She was a journalist who took a stand against the brutal crackdown on dissenting voices and women's rights and against a President who is indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide against her people."
In reference to Mr Mohammed's murder, she added: "We are surprised at this planned deportation, as the Home Office has taken positive steps to recognise the appalling dangers Darfuri asylum seekers face."
Last night, a spokesman for the UK Border Agency said that the Home Office's policy on non-Arab Darfuris had not changed, indicating that it may have not been made clear in Miss Awooda's submissions to her asylum proceedings that she was of this particular ethnic origin.
He said: "We take our international responsibilities seriously and have a proud history of providing refuge to those in genuine need of our protection. Every case is considered on its individual merits and taking into consideration the situation in the country of origin.
"However, where we and the courts find someone is not in need of protection, we expect them to return home voluntarily."