Uprisings in Sudan

A civil rights revolution is taking place in Sudan, with hundreds of protests across the country since mid-December 2018. Governmental security forces have been responding with a show of strength in a brutal campaign of violence and harassment.

There have been reports from inside the country of excessive use of teargas and live ammunition, torture and illegal detainment. Journalists have been arrested and university buildings have been shut down. According to opposition groups, over fifty people have now been killed. Protester and recent university graduate, Abdul-Metaal Saboun, told Associated Press he was detained and tortured for three days for taking part in a demonstration, but that he has not been discouraged. “We have no choice but to resist”, he said; “there is nothing that makes me frightened of them anymore”.

Like Saboun many of those protesting in Sudan are young, in their 20s and 30s, which has led to comparisons with the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011. Demonstrations were initially triggered by measures taken in the face of worsening economic conditions (such as the tripling of the price of bread), following the loss of 75% of the country’s oil reserves when South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011. These oil fields accounted for 50% of Sudan’s GDP at the time of the secession and as a result inflation has risen dramatically over the last eight years. Half of Sudan’s population now lives below the poverty line.

Following the outrage over the rising cost of basic commodities, demonstrations countrywide have grown to incorporate grievances of all kinds. As with the Arab Spring, protesters are calling for increased individual freedoms and recognition of their human rights. President Omar al-Bashir – who has been in power for almost three decades – is refusing to step down despite repeated calls for him to do so.

UNICEF is calling on Sudanese authorities to prioritise the protection and safeguarding of children – after reports that some minors have been killed – and to ensure their access to both education and health in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

According to Jehanne Henry of Human Rights Watch, “the longer the protests go on, the more violence and abuses we might see the Sudanese government use… the government uses the same sorts of tactics every time there are protests. The risk is that it will get bloodier”.

If al-Bashir does resign, says the the International Crisis Group, a democratic change in leadership may allow for a peaceful transition. The Group is pushing for international governments to create incentives for al-Bashir to step down.

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Open letter: Home Office’s ‘Joint Action Plan’ ignores international law

The “Joint action plan by the UK and France on combating illegal migration involving small boats in the English Channel” sea crossings is, primarily, a symptom of the desperation, untenable conditions and lack of safe and effective routes to seek asylum faced by displaced people in Northern France. Until these root causes are addressed, asylum seekers will continue to take perilous journeys in their attempt to seek sanctuary in the United Kingdom.


The right to seek asylum

The 1951 Refugee Convention and the subsequent 1967 Protocol, ratified by both the UK and France, assert and protect the right of individuals to seek asylum. Yet you consistently refer to the women, children and men in the Northern France area as ‘illegal migrants’. We would like to remind you of your obligation to assess each displaced person’s asylum claim, before pre-judging the outcome and assigning them a certain legal status. The majority of the displaced community in Northern France originate from countries that are well-known for their persecution (including, but not limited to, Iran and Eritrea) and others plagued by war, conflict and generalised violence (including, but not limited to, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Sudan).

According to §14 of the ‘Joint Action Plan’, and if recent media reports are to be trusted, you will be sending asylum-seekers back to France without allowing them to have their claims assessed adequately in Britain. This violates both their rights and the UK’s obligations, as established above. Those who arrive by boat have the same right to have their asylum claim fairly assessed, as do others arriving by different means.

The UK in Northern France: spending and securitisation


We have seen little evidence of the £3.6 million Development Fund, allocated by the Sandhurst Treaty in January 2018 to improve the process for those seeking asylum in the UK, in action.

The UK has spent, and continues to spend, vast sums of money on policies in Northern France thatneither support the displaced population nor address the causes of their irregular crossings. There has been little evidence of the £3.6 million Development Fund, allocated by the Sandhurst Treaty in January 2018, in action. Organisations on the ground, including those who have co-signed this letter, affirm that its impact on asylum procedures and the living conditions for those in Northern France has been negligible at best.

The Joint Action Plan commits a further £6m of public funds to fortifying the border, and thus perpetuates the British government’s prioritisation of a buttressed concept of state security over the rights and protection of vulnerable individuals.

We further note with concern that, in §6, the signatories appear to conflate such spending with the protection of Britain from terrorism. This contributes to the legitimisation of rhetoric which collapses the topics of asylum, migration and counter-terrorism into one, and narratives which frame asylum-seekers as a threat to public safety.

In §2, you assert that recent security measures have been a ‘success’, but also note that they are one of the reasons that individuals have attempted perilous journeys across the Channel in order to seek asylum. In short, it follows that the measures have succeeded in pushing vulnerable individuals to take greater risks and forcing smuggling networks further underground.

Furthermore, such a claim seeks to detach the dire conditions in Northern France from the reasons that drive people in to small boats at night. By placing the emphasis on the evasion of border security, it removes individuals’ actions from the context in which they exist. In Northern France, that is one characterised by ongoing police violence and harassment; a lack of effective access to asylum procedures; and a profound lack of shelter and support for vulnerable people.

Prior experience of destitution and precarity elsewhere in Europe, coupled with the knowledge that any informal settlements and shelters re-emerging in the Northern France area would be imminently demolished, seems to be a key motivator for displaced individuals to accept any possible ‘exit plan’ available. The ongoing government response to human suffering in Northern France appears to consist of dispersals and push-backs, arbitrary detention and removals, evictions and demolitions, the blocking of humanitarian aid, sanitation and medical care, potentially intentional sleep deprivation and the overall criminalisation of solidarity. This raft of measures has contributed to the continuous application of structural and physical violence against displaced people in the area, driving individuals to take desperate measures.

Strategic communication

It is of utmost importance that the ‘strategic communication campaign’ referred to in §13 has, as its ultimate aim, the goal of ensuring that vulnerable individuals are familiar with and can access the support that they need, including the processes by which they can seek asylum in the UK (including Dublin III and s. 67) or in France. It must be designed in collaboration with aid groups operating in the Northern France, and ensure that any information is presented in an accessible, sensitive and child-friendly manner.

In sum, your approach chooses to ignore not only international law, but also the wider context of asylum in Europe, and asylum seekers’ individual circumstances. We invite you to enter into dialogue with us about these matters.


Refugee Rights Europe

Help Refugees

Refugee Infobus

Refugee Youth Service

Utopia 56

L’Auberge des Migrants

Refugee Community Kitchen

School Bus Project

Refugee Women’s Centre

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80,000 Nigerians displaced

Since November last year there has been an increase in clashes between rebel groups and the military in Nigeria, mainly in Borno State, leading to 80,000 people being forced to flee their homes to seek safety elsewhere. This is in addition to the 1.8 million who have already been displaced internally by conflict in recent years. A further 6,000 people – most of whom are women and children – have fled across the border to Chad to take refuge in the region surrounding Lake Chad.

Of those “on the move” inside Nigeria, the UNHCR has reported that 312,000 people are in need of immediate, life-saving care. Humanitarian teams on the ground are also concerned that the Presidential elections on 16th February will result in increased fighting and violence, contributing to further injury, insecurity and displacement across the country. The UN has made statements requesting that all those involved in fighting work to protect civilians and uphold international law.

Throughout 2018 Nigeria experienced several bouts of violence, due for the most part to competition for water and land resources. Hostility was exacerbated by dissatisfaction with the ruling president, Muhammadu Buhari, and his party, the APC.

Earlier this year the IRC placed Nigeria in the top ten of those countries most at-risk of humanitarian disaster in 2019, just behind Syria and the Central African Republic.

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The impact of indefinite detention: an introduction

‘They treat us like animals, what do we have? …I don’t know when I am going to go out, its like hell over here’ (Asylum Seeker, Harmondsworth Detention Centre)

The UK has one of the largest immigration detention complexes in Europe: in 2017, more than 26,000 people entered detention, and some 2,500 – 3,000 people are held at any given time. Yet unlike any other country in Europe, the UK’s immigration system has no time limit for detention, leaving vulnerable people trapped in an uncertain limbo.

People can legally be held in immigration detention if their asylum applications are being processed or have been refused by the Home Office. Last year, more than a quarter of detainees were held for one to four months, and almost two thousand people were detained for more than four months. As of 30 June 2017, the longest detention time was 1,514 days – more than four years – a figure that massively surpasses other European detention standards, such as the 32-day detention limit in France and six-week detention limit in Germany.

Detention, abuse and mental health

The harm caused by such lengthy deprivations of liberty is compounded by the fact that those claiming asylum are five times more likely to have mental health needs than the general population.

An ‘adults at risk’ framework was created in 2016 to ensure that ‘genuine cases of vulnerability are consistently identified’ and ‘vulnerable people are not detained inappropriately’.

However, this framework has failed to protect victims of torture, sexual or gender-based violence, human trafficking and modern slavery, all of whom continue to be detained in unacceptable conditions, lacking the specialised support that they require, for prolonged amounts of time.

indefinite detention suicides

A truly shocking statistic: there were two suicide attempts by detainees every day last year.

Indefinite detention has a devastating impact on the mental health of detainees. Self-harm is common; last year, there were two suicide attempts by detainees each day, and eleven deaths. A BBC Panorama investigation included shocking footage of the abusive treatment faced by asylum seekers at Brook House Detention centre in September 2017. Recordings showed an officer appearing to throttle one man and threatening to put him to sleep. Additional footage showed serious verbal assaults and psychological abuse towards detainees.

Complaints of sexual mistreatment and violence by staff at Yarl’s Wood, a detention centre housing women and families, are ongoing. Recent reports include guards propositioning women for sex and humiliating them during strip-searches.

Unlawful detention

It has recently been revealed that the Home Office has unlawfully held individuals in detention, after Courts have ruled that they can be released. This is due to Home Office failures to provide accommodation for asylum seekers, despite having a legal duty to do so. Their defence? That emergency housing is ‘not dissimilar’ to detention, save for the deprivation of detainees’ liberty.

Taken with the fact that asylum accommodation has been reported as ‘damp, dirty [and] vermin infested’, and that detention centres have been ruled ‘prison-like’, we are presented with a damning picture of Britain’s attitudes towards vulnerable asylum seekers.

One asylum seeker, who was granted bail after spending 10 months in detention, was rejected for accommodation by the Home Office on the grounds that he ‘was not destitute by the fact he is being housed [in detention] and his dietary needs are catered to’.

The letter drew similarities between the facilities in detention and asylum accommodation, arguing the main difference to be the ‘lack of liberty’. This inhumane disregard for a person’s freedom has enormous costs, both mental (to the detainee) and financial (to the taxpayer): beyond the immediate costs of incarceration, the Home Office has paid £21m in compensation in the past five years alone for holding people in unlawful and prolonged detention.

If individuals are released, huge backlogs of work and severe staff shortages have resulted in multiple failures by the Home Office in providing accommodation. In January, the government repealed a law that had allowed homeless detainees to apply for accommodation whilst still in detention, leaving many on the streets, reliant on the good will of charities and individuals for food and housing.

The campaign to end detention

A tentative step forward has been identified in the government’s recent announcement that Campsfield detention centre will close by May 2019, an encouraging step by Home Secretary Sajid Javid to reduce the number of people detained at any given time.

The decision marks a move towards reducing the Home Office’s targets by almost 40% and has meant nearly 300 less bed spaces in the UK’s detention domain. However, civil society organisations have expressed concern that these beds may instead be replaced in plans for expanded detention centres at Heathrow and Gatwick.

Compassion and understanding should be at the heart of our immigration and asylum policies. Instead, the detention of refugees and migrants is a manifestation of systemic disregard for the wellbeing of vulnerable individuals.  Until an alternative is implemented, it will continue to produce heart-breaking and unnecessary consequences.

This article has been written by Maddie Grounds, political correspondent at the Immigration Advice Service, for Help Refugees.

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An offer for the Home Secretary

Over the last few weeks we have become increasingly concerned at the statements coming from the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid. In response, our partners Good Chance Theatre have made him an offer he can’t refuse.

Good Chance have have sent a letter to the Home Secretary offering to organise a special performance of The Jungle Play so that he can learn about the histories of the people who are making these journeys, and meet people who have themselves come through Calais and are now working and succeeding in the UK.

We’ve offered to give a presentation on the deteriorating conditions and hostile environment in Northern France forcing people to risk their lives in search of safety in the UK.

The posts are gaining traction but we need your support. Together we want to #StartAConversation about why people seek asylum, worsening conditions in Calais causing people to risk their lives & help more people better understand the human beings behind the headlines.

Will you retweet the post, and urge the Home Secretary to accept our offer? 


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