THE BRITISH government is turning back refugees from Darfur in Sudan, even though it says that appalling suffering and mass murder are going on in the area.
Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, says “genocide” is taking place in Darfur—but the US’s faithful ally in Europe meets refugees from Sudan with barbed wire and harsh laws.
In the months of April, May and June this year 370 people from Sudan managed to claim asylum in Britain.
An extraordinary 345, over 93 percent, were refused. Just ten people have been granted refugee status so far.
Home secretary David Blunkett and his officials often claim that people arriving in Britain have no real cause to leave their own country. But that cannot be the case for Darfur.
Tony Blair went to Sudan last month and pressed home his view that “we can’t have a situation where thousands of people are dying, and nothing is done”.
Something is being done. Refugees are being pitched back by New Labour to endure further suffering.
Gerard, who is now living illegally in a makeshift camp in France, fled Darfur earlier this year. He left the country because three close relatives had been butchered by government militias.
“I feared I would be next because our family are known for being in favour of tolerance and unity of people from different ethnic backgrounds,” he told Socialist Worker this week.
“The militias made it clear that we were on their target list. The only reason we got the bodies back of those they had killed was to give us a warning.
“My family decided that I should go. It was a very sad day for me, to leave my brother and sisters, my parents and my uncles. But I did not want to die.
“I crossed the border into Libya and then paid some people all my savings to get to Europe. After a long journey on a boat I ended up in Greece. I felt such relief, but also terror that I would be sent back. I hid in a forest for several weeks.”
Then Gerard heard a radio broadcast in the summer featuring British international development secretary Hilary Benn.
“I heard him say that Darfur was the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. At that moment I knew that I had to get to Britain, where I would surely be welcomed. If they knew how much we were suffering then they had to accept us.”
First he went to Holland, then France. He met other Sudanese refugees who had set up camp about three kilometres from the entrance to the Channel Tunnel.
“Whole families were sleeping on beds of cardboard they had made from old boxes,” says Gerard. “They had draped rugs and plastic sheets over branches to make shelters.
“At first I could not understand why they were living like this. It was so squalid, and the conditions got worse all the time. There was rubbish and waste everywhere, and the area was swarming with wasps.
“We would have starved if it had not been for charity handouts from good people who came to help us.
“I was not used to living like this. I had trained as a doctor in Khartoum, and my family had some money—otherwise I would never have got to Europe. ‘Let’s go to Britain,’ I said, but people laughed at me.
“Other Sudanese people had got across to Dover but were sent back because they did not have the right papers. How could we have proof of our identities after what we had been through?
“Some of my friends were hurled out of Britain because it was suspected they were not really from Darfur. They were accused of being from Chad.
“I have no idea how any British official could tell such things, as I cannot myself be sure of such distinctions.”
A Sudanese woman who was refused entry into Britain for “being Chadian” was sent back to France. She killed herself a few days later.
Last week conditions for the Darfur refugees became even worse. Mohammed Isa, a Sudanese refugee, was killed in a fight with a smuggling gang.
There was also talk of a second person killed, and of a deal between the French police and certain refugees to allow them better treatment in exchange for working with the authorities.
“Everything is so corrupt. People are murdered and nothing is said,” says Gerard. “The police did not care at all. To them it was one more problem cleared from the streets. We protested but they taunted us in a racist way, saying we were black rubbish, and so on.
“We went to a local church, the St Pierre and St Paul, to join other refugees who were on hunger strike against repression and for their rights.
“The police came in on Tuesday of last week and threw us all out. That is my life—being thrown out, never having a welcome, never being treated like a human being.
“The police then arrested many of the refugees and took them to a camp. There they were forced to apply for asylum. We can ask for asylum in France, but those who have done so get no sympathy. Many have been expelled from Europe.”
For its own reasons the British government has found it useful to talk about suffering in Sudan. But its treatment of refugees makes those words bitterly hypocritical.
Its real message is, “Thank you for providing some useful propaganda. But please don’t come here. We would much prefer you to stay and die.”
Some names have been changed to protect people against state action.