Louise Roland-Gosselin: At last the Home Office has seen sense on Darfuri asylum-seekers

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Independent Voices

As reported in today's Independent, after years of campaigning by organisations such as our own – Waging Peace – the Home Office has finally said that it will grant refugee status to all non-Arab Darfuris in the UK.

This is life-changing and life-saving news for hundreds of Darfuri asylum-seekers we work with. Since 2005 the Home Office policy on Darfuri refugees has been an unfathomable one. As the International Criminal Court charged the sitting Sudanese President with war crimes and crimes against humanity, the Home Office continued to insist Darfuris could safely be repatriated to Sudan. Even when we highlighted a case earlier this year where a man repatriated by the UK had been murdered by the Sudanese authorities upon his return, the Home Office continued to consider returning asylum-seekers to Khartoum to be consistent with protecting their human rights.

It is worth noting what this judgment means for those it will affect. The Darfur region of Sudan has been ravaged by war and state-sanctioned oppression for more than 20 years. Virtually every non-Arab Darfuri has been killed or displaced on the orders of Sudan's despotic ruler, Omar Bashir. Bashir came to power in a coup in 1989 and subsequently carved up the already benighted country, fuelling mass inter-ethnic violence. His army and affiliated militias such as the infamous Janjaweed have killed millions of innocent civilians and created a near-unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

With this in mind, it seems beyond belief that it has taken so long to persuade the Home Office of the right of a relatively small group of UK-based Darfuri asylum-seekers to sanctuary on our shores. Does this set a legal precedent for supposedly less deserving nationals claiming UK asylum? Certainly not. It is simply the right thing to do.

This Home Office announcement is a victory for Darfuri refugees and an example of the value of campaigning organisations in putting pressure on the UK Government in cases of clear injustice. There is still work to be done. Hundreds of asylum cases involving Darfuri refugees are still pending, but we must nonetheless acknowledge that, while it has taken an agonising amount of time, the Government has heeded advice and common sense.

Louise Roland-Gosselin is the director of Waging Peace; www.wagingpeace.info