Last December, a report endorsed by the Home Secretary said: “It is not unreasonable, for reasons of identity and geography, to believe that Britain has a duty to help those over whom it once ruled…”
However, the Government does not apply this to people from countries that were part of the British empire in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Instead, people fleeing war, persecution and violence from these parts of the world are met with cruel and inhumane deterrence policies.
Deterrence doesn’t stop people. The lack of safe routes doesn’t stop people. Instead, it leaves them with little choice but to pay smuggling gangs for a spot in a flimsy boat to cross the Channel to travel to the UK to claim asylum. While the Government refuses to create more routes to safety, while it runs its global resettlement scheme into the ground, while it pours billions of taxpayers’ money into deterrence, people are dying off our south coast.
‘No one puts their life or that of their family at risk unless they are desperate.’
Areas of the world that were colonised by European powers including the UK have borne the brunt of war, suffering, and displacement. Sudan is no exception. It was colonised by the British Empire and subjected to policies of divide and rule. The legacy of colonial violence and underdevelopment has been long-lasting. Wealth and profit flowed freely into Britain from colonies like Sudan, but now refugees’ movements in the same direction are forcefully restricted.
Colonial narratives which have dehumanised people of African descent have a long history in the UK and this anti-blackness is being reproduced in the UK’s current piecemeal approach to asylum.
Colonial Map of Africa
The UK has a large Sudanese community. Many people from Sudan have family and loved ones already living here. English is one of the two official languages of the country. Most of us can understand why people want to rebuild their lives here in the UK when we see this combination of personal connections and linguistic and historical ties.
But if the Illegal Migration Bill – which we call the Refugee Ban Bill – is passed by Parliament, people who arrive from Sudan will never be able to claim asylum in the UK. Instead they’ll be detained indefinitely and deported. Why are the people displaced by violence and persecution in Asia, Africa and the Middle East treated differently by the Government?
It is because people in power have normalised racist and dehumanising language against people seeking asylum and refugees. The aim is to make it easier to violate their human rights. Once we start to question this, we can ask what people in power gain from targeting people, and then fight for a better system.
Sudanese refugees – the data
83%: the percentage of asylum claims from Sudanese nationals that are successful.
3166: the number of people from Sudan who claimed asylum in year ending March 2023.
165: the number of people from Sudan resettled under the UK Resettlement Scheme in year ending March 2023.
4552: the number of people from Sudan who have waited six months or more for a decision on their asylum claim.
The Government must ditch its approach of creating bespoke schemes for different nationalities. A refugee protection system should apply equally to people based on what they’re escaping, not from where they’re escaping. It is discriminatory to treat people differently depending on their nationality.
Sudanese citizens can only travel to the countries in green without requiring a visa or getting a visa on arrival
Instead, the UK should adopt a standardised refugee resettlement programme that pledges to welcome at least 30,000 people a year. It should be a programme that can be scaled up at speed to cope with emerging crises, such as those we have seen in Afghanistan, Ukraine and now Sudan.
The Government already runs the UK Resettlement Scheme to support refugees to come to the UK to rebuild their lives here and it must be more ambitious. In the 12 months to March 2023 this scheme welcomed just 700 people, a drop of more than 50 per cent on the previous year. The Government must also expand existing family reunion routes for people who have loved ones already here. Family reunion prevents dangerous journeys to the UK.
It must also waive visa requirements for Sudanese nationals to enter the UK to claim asylum, offer automatic visa extensions to all Sudanese nationals in the UK, even in cases where criteria are no longer met, and make a clear statement on the process for anybody already in UK (with or without status) to apply for asylum and be swiftly granted protection status.
Finally, Ministers must tear up the Refugee Ban Bill and replace it with a system that is accessible, workable and in line with the European convention on Human Rights.
Sami Ahmad’s story
Sami Ahmad farrived in the UK with his wife and teenage son in January 2022. They had their screening interview at the airport but, 18 months later, Sami and his family are waiting for their substantive interview. He had to leave his country because of the Sudanese Government’s mistreatment of his tribe, the Berti people.
“We are treated as a lower caste, are discriminated against on many levels, we experience racism because of our colour of skin, our villages are being destroyed and all because Berti is an African tribe, and the Government supports Arab tribes. My family in Sudan are displaced in their country. They have already fled from Darfur to Khartoum, but their neighbourhood has been bombed in this new conflict. They had to choose life between the army and rebels in Khartoum.”
In the war, Sami has lost family members. The survivors have been forced to escape to a small city in the north of Sudan. “We have been internally displaced three times.”
Sami’s brothers are in the UK and have been granted refugee status. But his mother was denied entry to the UK to join them, and she is trapped in Sudan in the middle of the conflict. “It’s unfair! Our country is also in the middle of a war. The UK government has done nothing to help the Sudanese. There is no programme to resettle Sudanese people in the UK but we are at war like Ukraine is at war. The reason for that is we are black not white Europeans.”
Like countless people stuck in the asylum system, Sami lives in limbo and waits for the Home Office to decide his application. “Months of poor treatment, lack of communication and no interview. I’m sitting and can’t do anything but wait. I desperately want to get my mother out of Sudan.
If I had refugee status, I would’ve gone to Egypt or Ethiopia to take my mother out of Sudan and away from harm. My Family and I are in a bad state now. We want a path out of this. There is no way of ensuring our family’s welfare in Sudan. Electricity and water go out in Sudan, which can go on for seven to 10 days and there’s no news from our family”.