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Observations on Darfur

The Home Office has initiated a purge of Darfur asylum-seekers in the UK with the alleged collaboration of Sudan's London embassy, despite charges that the Sudanese government is responsible for genocide. Just as Tony Blair was calling on the UN to enforce a no-fly zone over Darfur in March, the UK was allowing Sudanese officials to interrogate Darfuris in immigration centres.

Yahia el-Bashir, aged 29, sought asylum in March 2005 after Sudanese planes bombed his village of Artala, in western Darfur, killing his father and mother. El-Bashir claims that last month, during a "signing in" process at a London police station, required of asylum-seekers while applications are processed, Home Office officials led him into a room to be interrogated by a member of the very government from which he fled. "The immigration officer put me in the interrogation room with an official from the Sudanese embassy. The Home Office didn't inform me of this before. The man said the Home Office had asked him to investigate me on their behalf."

El-Bashir is not alone. Mustafa Hasballah, an electronics engineer from west Darfur, says that on 20 March he went to the Immigration and Nationality Directorate where he was interviewed by a Sudan embassy officer in the presence of Home Office immigration officers. Hasballah says he was given no choice. He was asked about his family background and is now worried that Sudanese police might target his family in Darfur.

Human-rights groups have condemned Home Office actions. "We're familiar with this, and its legality may be questionable," says David Brown of the Aegis Trust. "The Home Office is working hand in glove with the representatives of a government that has burned down [asylum-seekers'] villages and killed their families." Some human-rights workers suspect the embassy workers could be members of Sudan's secret police.

Britain, in spite of calling for UN peacekeepers and an arms embargo, still claims that asylum-seekers can be returned to Sudan. In line with John Reid's hardline strategy, three Darfuris had been due to be flown back on 28 March. The courts have granted them a temporary reprieve, although the Home Office is likely to appeal. A spokeswoman said that, while individual cases cannot be commented on, officials solicit the help of foreign embassies only after asylum applications have been processed.

This article first appeared in the 16 April 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Iran