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What’s next for asylum-seekers from war-torn Sudan?

Adam Mohammed Abdullah is still waiting, 10 years after coming to the UK, for the Home Office’s decision

Paul Peachey
Friday 19 September 2014 19:46 BST
Many Sudanese who come to the UK are escaping the very worst kinds of human rights abuses in their home
Many Sudanese who come to the UK are escaping the very worst kinds of human rights abuses in their home (Getty Images)

Adam Mohammed Abdullah’s flight from the war in Sudan started on a camel and ended in Britain, hidden in the back of a refrigerated lorry.

Nearly 10 years later – after five periods of detention, no work, little money or hope – he is living in a house in Leicester with three other asylum-seekers awaiting a decision on his future. While he remains in limbo, his family are still at home, including the daughter born 11 years ago whom he has never seen.

It is a potential fate that awaits new members of one of the fastest-growing groups of asylum-seekers to Britain from Sudan, which is embroiled in fresh fighting after the vicious campaign of ethnic cleansing in the western region of Darfur that forced Adam, now aged 40, to flee in 2003. And they are employing desperate measures to get here.

Just this week, three suspected illegal immigrants were arrested after being seen falling from underneath a lorry in the Midlands. Another 25 were found yesterday in the back of a lorry near Dover. And one 18-year-old Sudanese man was pictured earlier this week seated forlornly after being found after he emerged from underneath a motorhome after tying himself to the chassis and travelling from France.

“When the young lad came out, he looked very shaken; he didn’t quite know what to do and he just sat there patiently after we called the police,” said the driver Paul Coles. “It seemed as though he’d put everything he’d got into getting here and he’ll probably be sent back.”

The unnamed teenager was arrested by police and held by Immigration Enforcement. If he claims asylum, he could be detained while he seeks refugee status and a five-year leave to remain in the country. Less than a third of applicants have been granted refugee status in recent years, according to analysis of Home Office figures by the Refugee Council.

“Many Sudanese who come to the UK are escaping the very worst kinds of human rights abuses in their home country,” said Olivia Warham, director of Waging Peace, a human rights organisation focused on Sudan. “This forces them to take desperate measures to seek sanctuary here.

“Some who make the crossing by sea say there is murder and rape on the boats, and that traffickers order people to jump overboard to their deaths to avoid everyone sinking. We’ve spoken to some who’ve clung to the bottom of trucks, paying traffickers the last of their money to risk their lives and make the trip. Having faced all that, it’s awful that they’re treated like criminals here and their claims for asylum are distrusted.”

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act last month revealed that more than 19,000 stowaways were seized in the 12 months to May this year, a 60 per cent increase on the previous year. Thousands from troublespots in Africa and the Middle East have camped in makeshift tents at Calais, as they prepare to make the final leg of their journey to Britain.

It is a journey that Adam made after seeing “more than 100 people die in front of my face” during fighting in Darfur. He to travelled north-west and crossed into Libya, where he spent months holed up on a farm fearful of arrest.

He reached Europe in the hold of a small boat to Italy, and made his way up through France. At Calais, he hid in the back of a lorry while the driver took a nap, before emerging in the UK and reporting at a police station.

After six months, he was returned to Italy, as under EU law, the first country that detains and fingerprints an asylum-seeker is duty bound to process their application. But in Adam’s case, nothing happened for two months – so he returned to Britain where he has remained. “There’s a Sudanese community here and we talk, but we’re just wasting time,” he said. “If I went back, I would be called a spy and I would die.”

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