The case of the 800 Sudanese asylum seekers who were deported by Jordan after protesting in front of the UNHCR office has disappeared from media coverage. But nearly five months later many returnees like Hawa Abdo Adam are waiting to be reunited with family members who were left behind.
It was a cold December day when Hawa Abdo left her 8-month-old daughter with friends and went to the hospital for a check-up. Five months months later, she is in a different country, desperate to be reunited with her.
Abdo is one of at least 800 Sudanese refugees who were deported from Jordan to Sudan at the end of last year. The asylum seekers, most of whom had escaped the ongoing conflict in Darfur had already experienced a series of home raids, arbitrary arrests and police harassment on the streets and markets of Jordan’s capital, Amman.
Abdo hoped to apply for re-settlement in a third country while in Jordan. Instead, while on her way to the hospital to pick up her daughter, she was taken into police custody without a warrant or an explicit reason for the arrest.
“I was stopped by the police and they asked if I am Sudanese. When I answered yes, they asked me to go with them. They are the police, I could not say anything,” she said to Refugees Deeply, speaking from Khartoum.
Racism is a routine challenge for most Sudanese refugees in Jordan, including in the registration process. Some Sudanese were even arrested in front of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) offices where they had organized a peaceful sit-in for an entire month, calling on the agency to desist from preferential treatment of certain refugee communities over others. According to some of these protestors, the UN agency conducts the registration process quicker for refugees emanating from Middle Eastern countries such as Iraq and Syria over Sudanese applicants. The same sources claim that specific nationalities had better access to services through NGOs that work with UN refugee agency. Sudanese refugees in Jordan similar to other countries hope for resettlement, however, the conflict in Sudan is not only not an emergency situation, but Sudan is seen as not entirely unsafe which allows for the possibility of voluntary repatriation while applications for refugees from countries like Syria are given emergency priority.
The deportations were haphazard and reckless to the point of breaching the basic rights of the asylum-seekers. Families were severed in the process, with some from the group remaining in Jordan with absolutely no whereabouts of when they will be reunited with their families who were forcibly returned to Sudan.
Abdo says Jordanian authorities deported her and others despite having UNHCR documents proving their refugee status registered as refugees. The Jordanian government, however, claims that those deported were not refugees, but “illegal immigrants.” According to UNHCR, there are about 4,000 Sudanese asylum-seekers in Jordan – a miniature figure compared to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian refugees.
Jordan, home to one of the largest UNHCR operations in the region, is a popular destination for asylum-seekers hoping for third party resettlement.
For Sudanese refugees, Egypt was the top destination for several decades. But the 2005 attacks at Mostafa Mahmoud square in Cairo, where police dispersed a sit-in with brutal force, killing at least 20 Sudanese nationals, have largely averted arrivals to Egypt in recent years. The conditions of refugees in Egypt have rapidly deteriorated since the 2011 revolution due to a volatile political situation and a deteriorating economy which saw Egyptians grow even more impoverished and more refugees and asylum-seekers finding it difficult to survive in Egypt. Since the 2005 incident, the Egyptian government has rarely engaged with refugee politics and refraining from mass deportations has made the country shine internationally on this issue.
However, Egypt is becoming more of a transit country as growing numbers of refugees are trying to illegally enter Europe via sea, this week, at least 400 drowned in the Mediterranean sea as they attempted to cross over from Egypt to Italy.
On the other hand, Jordan ratified the 1984 U.N. Convention against Torture, which prohibits the return of refugees if they are in danger of being abused or tortured in their home countries.
“I have never heard of a refugee being returned to their country,” said Abdo, who found herself back in Khartoum just hours after she was arrested in Jordan.
Abdo claims that she and others were shackled by the Jordanian authorities and put on planes heading to Khartoum. While they were being held in a warehouse near the airport, they tried to protest and alert others about their plight through social media. But Police quickly thwarted their efforts with brute force and tear gas, according to several Sudanese refugees who spoke with Refugees Deeply.
“During the deportation process, we were treated as if we were prisoners of war,” said Amin Adam, one of the returnees.
Since landing in Khartoum, Abdo has been in a state of shock.
Not only is she is back in a country that she fled after enduring unfathomable hardship and barely surviving clashes in her hometown, but now she is also without her daughter who was left behind during deportations.
With no means to buy a plane ticket and given that the Jordanian authorities have not acknowledged her basic rights as an asylum seeker and the parent of an asylum seeker, she is stuck for the time being.
Without the help of a humanitarian agency or a government to advocate her plea, she has no idea how she will see her daughter again.
This article and video first appeared on Refugees Deeply.