From Darfur to the Calder Valley
Thursday, 10 July 2008
This is Bakhit, a teenager from Sudan, back on a horse for the first time since war tore his life apart. Hebden Bridge residents Peter Ruse and Peter Verney, who both worked in Sudan in the 1980s, took him rambling and riding in the Calder Valley in June.
Bakhit has had the narrowest of escapes and endured barely imaginable tragedy. His village in Darfur was destroyed by the notorious Janajweed; his sister was killed by a Sudan government plane machine-gunning its people. His father's fate is unknown. His mother, who fled with him to a refugee camp, gave him their remaining savings to leave the country when security police came looking for him.
And when he arrived in Britain, he wasn't believed. The Home Office tried to demolish his credibility, and even when he won his case on appeal, tried to get the decision overturned. Now it seems he's safe and sound at last, but he knows he's been lucky.
Coinciding ironically with Foreign Minister David Miliband's visit to Sudan (8 July 2008), the Home Office has resumed its efforts to send Darfur asylum-seekers back there.
Dismissing the advice of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and reports from the Aegis Trust of the Sudanese government torturing returnees from the UK, the Home Office insists that they face no risk of further persecution. Observers say the mass arrests of Darfuris in the capital, Khartoum, reported by Human Rights Watch and others in recent weeks, and evidence of severe harm to detainees, have not been taken into account.
This means that Ibrahim, the other refugee from Darfur who went riding in the Calder Valley that day, could be detained and deported at any time. A successful farmer, he was deafened by a beating by Sudanese security police, and is on their records as a rebel supporter. He would probably also be recognised by the Sudanese authorities for taking part in protests in the UK against the Darfur massacres, and faces further torture and possible death if returned.
Then there is Dr Ali, who came to Hebden Bridge on a similar walk last year. He used to be a hospital director in Darfur until the security police went after him for taking medicines to villages suspected of rebel sympathies. Both men have lost their appeals and - three years after arriving here - face a highly uncertain future..
Video of Darfur suspects maltreated in Khartoum -