Ministers have been accused of breaking international rules on the treatment of refugees after Darfuri asylum-seekers were summoned for face-to-face interviews with officials from the regime they were trying to flee.
Campaigners expressed anger after it emerged that an official from the Sudanese embassy was seconded to the Home Office for six weeks to interview nearly 100 people who had fled the war-torn region. They claimed the Home Office had broken UN guidelines and its own internal rules. An investigation by researchers found that Sudanese officials were given personal details of asylum-seekers and allowed to question them during meetings with British immigration officers.
In one case, a man claimed he had been threatened with death by a Sudanese official during his encounter. The Home Office insisted it had followed its guidelines and said external governments were not involved until asylum decisions had been taken. A spokeswoman said Lin Homer, the chief executive of the Border and Immigration Agency, had asked for details of any allegations and "has made a full commitment to investigate and take robust action wherever we find evidence that our policy has not been adhered to".
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees had also raised concerns about the practice "at the highest level" in the Home Office, it emerged yesterday. UN guidelines say that asylum-seekers' personal details should be kept strictly confidential and that contact with their country of origin should not take place "until a final rejection of the asylum claim". But 16 out of 30 asylum-seekers interviewed by researchers said they had been questioned by a Sudanese official even though they were still pursuing claims for asylum.
A report to be published today by the pressure group Waging Peace presents a catalogue of cases in which Darfuri asylum-seekers were confronted by a Sudanese embassy official at Home Office interviews earlier this year. In some cases, the official is alleged to have had details of their names, addresses and families, while in others he appeared to have access to immigration files.
One man, described in the report as Rashid, was interviewed by a Sudanese official in March, despite making a fresh claim for asylum nearly a year earlier. He told researchers that the official asked him about his family and attacks by Janjaweed militia.
He said the official told him: "Why have you come to Britain to say that the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed have killed your family and why are you claiming asylum? I am from the Sudanese government and I will make sure that you are returned to Sudan so that the Government of Sudan kills you." Rashid is understood to still be awaiting a decision on his latest asylum claim.
In another case, a man – named as Mustapha – told how he was questioned in Arabic and told "wherever you go, we will follow you and get you".
Campaigners said that asylum-seekers had been left disturbed and frightened by the encounters and warned that some could be driven underground by fears of retribution from the Sudanese authorities.
Researchers estimate that more than 100 people, many of them in the process of filing asylum claims, underwent "intimidating" interviews.
A Home Office spokesperson said: "This is not a new story. Similar allegations about Sudanese asylum applications were made earlier this year and we made it clear then that our guidelines had been followed.
"We take great care to protect individuals who pass through our asylum system, and have confidence in the quality of our asylum decision-making process. We have a clear policy that external governments do not become involved in the redocumentation process until decisions have been made on cases. The chief executive of the Border and Immigration Agency, Lin Homer, initially asked for details of the dossier on 5 October, and has repeated this request on a number of occasions. As yet she has received no such dossier, nor any explanation as to why it has not been forthcoming. She has made a full commitment to investigate and take robust action wherever we find evidence that our policy has not been adhered to."
Sadiq Abakar, 29: 'I felt I had been handed to the Sudanese authorities by Britain'
Sadiq Abakar has been fighting to stay in Britain for nearly nine years. The electrical worker from Darfur fled his homeland in 1999 after being jailed and tortured for publicising the actions of the Sudanese government and militias.
He was horrified when, arriving at a routine "signing on" meeting with immigration staff, he was ushered into a room with an official from the Sudanese embassy.
The official questioned Mr Abakar in Arabic about his name and where he was from in Sudan – despite the fact that he had an active claim for asylum at the time.
"He said to me 'they are going to send you back home'," Mr Abakar said. "I was really shocked it came from him. I felt I had been handed to them. I felt I had been handed to the Sudanese authorities by the Home Office. I told him my case was not closed," he said.
"I came to this country because of the regime torturing us. We were running from it because we were scared for our lives. We came here because we thought we would be safe and peaceful. But we saw the people we were running from inside the Home Office. The Home Office handed us to them."
Mr Abakar, 29, has made a series of claims for asylum, but says his claim in 2005 was still open when he was summoned to the meeting earlier this year. That claim was later rejected, but he has since made a fresh claim for asylum.
Mr Abakar, a member of the Zaywa tribe, said he was living near the border with Chad and working for an electrical firm in the late 1990s when he became involved in campaigning against killings in Darfur.
He said he was involved in leafleting and campaigning against the violence, but was rounded up and imprisoned.
"They captured us and sent us to jail where we were tortured," he said. "I have been tortured. Really bad things happened."
He said his uncle helped free him from jail and assisted his flight from the country to Britain. But he fears that he would face further persecution if he was returned to Sudan.Reuse content