Sudanese asylum seeker flown back to UK after Khartoum gunfight delay

Diane Taylor
Photograph: Nariman El-Mofty/AP

A Sudanese asylum seeker wrongly deported by the Home Office has been flown back to the UK after his departure from Khartoum was delayed by a gunfight.

The man’s lawyers described the highly unusual move by the Home Office as “almost unprecedented”.

The 48-year-old, who cannot be named because he continues to fear for his life, arrived at Heathrow on Thursday afternoon after a harrowing three-day journey interrupted by gunshots and fighting.

“I’m so happy the Home Office has brought me back. This is justice,” he said soon after his plane landed.

He was due to arrive in the UK the previous day but a gun battle around the airport in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, between Sudanese soldiers and former elite troops loyal to the ousted Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir on Tuesday, the day for which the Home Office had booked his flight, meant planes were not taking off and he was forced to flee the airport.

He managed to board a Turkish Airlines flight from Khartoum the following day and arrived in London on Thursday.

The man claims to be a non-Arab Darfuri – a group whose lives are at risk from the Sudanese regime. Home Office country guidance states that all non-Arab Darfuris who seek asylum in the UK should be granted refugee status.

The man says he is a member of one of a particular tribe of non-Arab Darfuris and had been tortured in his home country because of his ethnicity. He arrived in the UK and claimed asylum in May 2016, but the Home Office and the courts disputed evidence of his origins. After locking him up in immigration detention for 11 weeks, the Home Office forcibly removed him to Sudan in October 2018.

He was accompanied on the plane by four Home Office escorts and was interrogated by officials at the airport in Khartoum. After that he went into hiding, and was only able to make phone contact with his supporters and lawyers in the UK intermittently because of the risks attached to his calls being monitored and identifying his secret location.

Evidence of his ethnicity was provided to the Home Office when he made his asylum claim, but after his forced removal his lawyers commissioned a report from the leading authority on the man’s tribe.

The expert said he found the man to be one of the most fluent speakers of the language spoken by that tribe in the last 20 years. He added that the man speaks a rare dialect known only by members of that tribe.

The expert said the man had been persecuted by the Sudanese authorities and “remains at high risk of further persecution”.

The Home Office accepted that the new evidence amounted to a fresh asylum claim, conceded that the decision that led to his removal was unlawful and agreed to fly him back to the UK so that his case could be reconsidered.

The Home Office paid £608.40 for two Turkish Airlines flights – the first from Khartoum to Istanbul and the second from Istanbul to London.

The man said: “I had to spend one year and two months in hiding after the Home Office returned me to Sudan because it was too dangerous to go out. When I went to the airport in Khartoum hoping to board a flight and saw all the weapons flying around when the Sudanese soldiers and security intelligence officials were fighting each other I was very frightened and didn’t know if I would make it back to the UK.”

Sonja Miley,a co-executive director of the charity Waging Peace, which campaigns against human rights abuses in Sudan, welcomed the man’s return to the UK.

“It was very exciting and emotional to see him return,” she said: “It’s an amazing feeling to have him back here. We were in touch with him for about a year and a half in the UK before the Home Office removed him to Sudan and maintained contact when possible to do so, while he was in hiding in Sudan.”

The man’s solicitor, Jamie Bell, of Duncan Lewis, said: “The Home Office had clear evidence of this man’s ethnicity but chose to ignore it. It was with great joy that we welcomed him back to Heathrow yesterday. He and his supporters had fought a 14-month battle for his return since the dreadful mistake to remove him in October 2018.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK only ever returns those who both we and the courts are satisfied do not need our protection and have no legal basis to remain in the UK.”