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UK Help for the Sudanese Unlikely in ‘Current Environment of Anti-Asylum Rhetoric’

Sudanese refugees have historically formed one of the largest groups entering the UK via ‘irregular routes’ – the current conflict will inevitably increase their numbers, reports Lauren Crosby Medlicott

Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick makes a speech at the Policy Exchange think tank in April 2023. Photo: Jordan Pettitt/PA/Alamy

UK Help for the Sudanese Unlikely in ‘Current Environment of Anti-Asylum Rhetoric’

Sudanese refugees have historically formed one of the largest groups entering the UK via ‘irregular routes’ – the current conflict will inevitably increase their numbers, reports Lauren Crosby Medlicott

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As the Government launches evacuation flights for British nationals in Sudan, the fighting continues – with Sudanese nationals left behind, forced to either staying hiding in homes or risk escape into the blood-stained streets. 

Tens of thousands have managed to leave Sudan for neighbouring countries like Chad, South Sudan and Egypt, and there will be many more in coming weeks and months. But the UK Government has yet to offer any route of Sudanese refugees to come to Britain.

There are signs that the UK will do nothing to help refugees from Sudan come here. Questioned this week, Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick suggested that, although he expected a rise in Sudanese small boat crossings, “those in peril should seek sanctuary in the first safe country they reach”.

In separate, controversial, comments on people crossing the Channel in small boats, he said that “excessive uncontrolled migration threatens to cannibalise the compassion that marks out the British people” and that those attempting the crossing “tend to have completely different lifestyles and values to those in the UK”.

The inaction for Sudanese people is in stark contrast to the three schemes created for Ukrainians who wanted to come to the UK following the Russian invasion. 

“The Ukrainian schemes offered visas rather than refugee protection,” Daniel Sohege, director of the human rights advocacy consultancy Stand for All told Byline Times. “When it comes to Sudan, there is unlikely to be even the will to create something which may help people to reach the UK.

“The sad reality is that the Government was essentially forced into creating the Ukraine scheme due to public pressure, because the conflict in Ukraine was more apparent to people due to its proximity. We have seen time and time again that this Government is unwilling to take even the most basic of actions to provide protections to those fleeing war and persecution.”

Government ‘Whipping Up Hatred’with ‘Unworkable’ Asylum Plans

Even though Afghan schemes were created after the Taliban’s takeover, they only saw a handful of people resettled in the UK, leaving families abandoned in Syrian camps due to, according to Sohege, “this Government’s failure to implement existing safe routes”.

Then there is Yemen. The country has seen years of a civil war, death and famine – and yet it has had no help from Britain. Will it be the same for the Sudanese fleeing fighting?

For those escaping Sudan, there seems to be little hope from charities or advocates that anything will be done to help this vulnerable group. 

“In the current environment of anti-asylum rhetoric from this Government, there seems little likelihood that it will implement any form of protection mechanisms for Sudanese refugees fleeing the escalating conflict,” Sohege said. “Safe routes take time to set up, and need a will do to so. Neither exists at the moment in terms of government focus.”

Without safe routes, Sudanese refugees will be forced to reach here by what the Government deems ‘illegal routes’. Under the new Illegal Migration Bill, Sudanese refugees who arrive in the UK via irregular routes would be detained and swiftly removed. Since it would be inconceivable to send them back to Sudan, Sohege predicts they would be stuck in a never-ending limbo or sent to Rwanda.

“Sudanese won’t be able to get UK visas, and if they come by land and sea, the Government say that they should have stayed in the first safe country they arrived in,” Dr. Jeff Crisp, Research Fellow at Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Centre observed. “I think they [the UK government] will do their best to do nothing at all, and hope that some kind of stability will soon be restored in Sudan.”

Sudanese refugees have historically formed one of the largest groups entering the UK via irregular routes, and the current conflict will inevitably eventually increase their numbers as they seek to find safety in a country where they speak the same language and have familial ties. 

“Due to the historic links between Britain and Sudan, many Sudanese refugees have close ties to the UK, including families and communities,” said Sohege. “English remains one of the official languages of the country, meaning that it is easier for them to communicate and share their experiences when here, rather than in a country where they don’t speak the language.”

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Bridget Chapman, an activist and campaigner working with refugees in Kent, said it must be remembered that “Sudan was a British colony” and that many of the Sudanese people she has worked with have said they have always been told the UK was their ‘mother country’. 

Yet, when they have risked their lives to get here – often by small boat crossings – they have been faced with an asylum system that has been called ‘broken’ by many. 

Susanne Jaspars has argued that the UK asylum system was cruel to Sudanese refugees. That those she spent time with had their phones immediately confiscated by UK border Force checking for criminal activity. That on arrival, the Home Office interviews failed to ask about their journey to the UK, which could have included modern slavery or human trafficking. They are housed in temporary hotels for months on end, not allowed to work, given little legal support and provided with limited services for health.

Chapman, who has worked with Sudanese children in the UK, said minors face even more problems and that she is worried about safeguarding issues, inappropriate housing, county lines, and mental health problems for children that have endured such trauma.

“It really is disgraceful,” she said. “These are vulnerable young people who we have a duty of care to, and we’re treating them really badly.”

While it is unlikely that the UK Government will do a U-turn and decide to offer routes for Sudanese refugees, Dr Crisp wonders whether it could at least provide a temporary right to remain for Sudanese people already in the UK, a step recently announced by Canada

“Instead of pushing forward with a bill which would see them, and potentially their children, denied the ability to ever seek asylum in the UK, or become citizens, this Government needs to start ensuring that it is safer and simpler for them to seek safety here,” Daniel Sohege told Byline Times.

“That should mean providing immediate safe routes out of Sudan, but that is complex, and this Government is unlikely to countenance the idea. At the very least, this Government should be shelving its Refugee Ban Bill and looking at way to ensure it can process the applications of all refugees faster and more effectively, and investing in community support programs so that they can rebuild their lives.”

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