Returned Darfuri asylum-seekers face torture and death in Khartoum

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Indy Politics

In two days time, Alnour Yousif Fasher will be deported to Sudan, sent back to the people he says were responsible for the murders of his parents and two brothers in Darfur.

"Of course I am frightened by what can happen to me," said Mr Fasher. "I remember what happened to my family. I was a member of what they call a 'rebel' group. I am afraid they will make me disappear, I will be killed."

The British Government publicly protests about the human rights abuse in Darfur by the Sudanese government and their client Janjaweed militia, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Gutteres, recently said: "Hundreds are still dying amid ongoing violence, and thousands are still being forcibly displaced. If things don't improve, we are heading for a major catastrophe".

But dozens of refugees from the region are having their asylum applications rejected by the Home Office, and face being returned.

Mr Fasher will be one of the first to be sent back. The Home Office, according to him and his supporters, maintains there is not enough evidence to prove that he is from Darfur. In any case, they add, it is now safe for people to be returned to Sudan because of a peace deal between the Khartoum government and some rebel groups.

In fact, Mr Fasher is a grandson of the Sultan of Zaghawa, a prominent Darfur tribe once allied with the British, and the family has connections to the town of el-Fasher in north Darfur. Three years ago, Jack Straw, then Foreign Secretary, visited a refugee camp nearbyon a fact-finding mission on the Darfur conflict.

Mr Fasher was a member of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) in Darfur which, unlike another group, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), has refused to sign the peace deal, and continues to clash with government forces and the Janjaweed.

Home Office figures show that there are 136 Darfuris in Britain whose asylum applications have been rejected and who await deportation to Khartoum. A further 152 have had their initial applications turned down and are in the process of appealing against removal.

According to the Darfur Union, the umbrella body for exiled Darfuris, and the Aegis Trust, the human rights pressure group, the Home office insists on providing people from the region with interpreters who speak Arabic rather than Darfuri languages like Zaghawa. Many of the asylum seekers complain that they cannot convey their case properly in Arabic, which is perceived in large parts of Darfur as the language of the "oppressive" Arab Khartoum regime. Some say that Arabic interpreters acting for them have sometimes been hostile, accusing them of betraying Islam and Arab fellowship by being "stooges of foreigners".

Speaking at the Dungavel House removal centre in South Lanarkshire, where he is being held prior to deportation, Mr Fasher said: "I came here because the British Government was speaking up for Darfur. We thought this was a country where they helped people who are trying to escape from persecution.

"I do not understand why they can say I am not from Darfur, my people are from there and my family were killed there. But there are others, friends, other people in the community who have been killed and driven out. It is going on even now."

Mr Fasher's father, Abdulrahman, 66, and his 55-year-old mother Abaqala were, he said, killed in a raid by government troops and Janjaweed militia four years ago on the town of Tina near the Chad border. His two brothers, Aymann and Mahmud, died in another attack two years later. His wife Halima, 23, is in a refugee camp in neighbouring Chad.

"My mother and father were killed when they were looking after the cattle, they were shot. They were old people and they were killed for nothing. My brothers were killed fighting for JEM. After that I thought about getting away.

"I came here through Libya in August last year and asked for asylum. I did not think it will end like this. I was hoping to bring my wife over here. Now I do not know if I shall see her again."

Dr James Smith, executive director of the Aegis Trust, said: "The sending back of Darfuris to Sudan is dangerous, misguided and morally reprehensible. The Aegis Trust has documented cases of torture, unlawful imprisonment and disappearances for those that are forcibly returned to Sudan.

"Alnour is at particular risk, as he is a member of a prominent Darfuri family and has been involved with the rebel movement. With Khartoum International Airport the only legal entry route, the British Government is effectively handing him over to the infamous Sudanese National Security and Intelligence Service for questioning and in all likelihood much worse treatment. We will be lucky if we ever hear from him again."

The Home Office said it could not comment on individual cases.