It was a cold December day in Jordan when Hawa Abdo Adam left her 8-month-old daughter with friends and went to the hospital for a check-up. Five months later, she is back in conflict-plagued Sudan, desperate to be reunited with her only child.
Hawa is one of at least 800 Sudanese refugees who were deported from Jordan to Sudan at the end of last year. Many of the asylum seekers, most of whom had escaped the ongoing conflict in Darfur, had been subject to home raids and arbitrary arrests by police, as well as regular harassment by officers on the streets of Jordan’s capital, Amman.
Hawa hoped to apply for resettlement in a third country while in Jordan. Instead, when on her way to pick up her daughter she was taken into police custody without a warrant or an explicit reason.
Racism is a routine experience for most Sudanese refugees in Jordan and even permeates the registration process. Some Sudanese were even arrested in front of the U.N. 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. UNHCR claimed they were unable to identify these people as asylum seekers. Some of the protesters said to Human Rights Watch that their resettlement applications “were being placed at a lower processing priority than refugees from other countries.”
The same sources claim that specific nationalities had better access to services through NGOs that work with UNHCR. Meanwhile, the conflict in Sudan is not officially deemed an emergency situation, especially with the country now classified as partially safe, which allows for the possibility of voluntary repatriation. Furthermore, applications of Syrian nationals are givenemergency priority.
Such tiered-systems have introduced bias and unfair treatment of asylum seekers, according to several reports by HRW that claim asylum seekers – such as those from Iraq and Afghanistan – feel forced to lie despite having extenuating circumstances that should qualify them for asylum.
The deportations of the 800 Sudanese were haphazard. Some charged they were conducted so recklessly that they breached the basic rights of the asylum-seekers. Families were severed in the process, some from the group remaining in Jordan with no idea when they will be reunited with their family members who were forcibly returned to Sudan.
Hawa said Jordanian authorities deported her despite her having UNHCR documents proving she was a registered asylum seeker. The Jordanian government, however, claims those deported were not refugees, but illegal immigrants. According to UNHCR, there are about4,000 Sudanese asylum-seekers in Jordan – a small 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 those hoping for third party resettlement.
For Sudanese refugees, Egypt was the top destination for several decades. But the 2005attacks at Mustafa Mahmoud Square in Cairo, where police dispersed a sit-in with brutal force killing at least 20 Sudanese nationals, largely many fro taking that route in recent years. The conditions of refugees in Egypt have also rapidly worsened since the 2011 revolution due to a volatile political situation and a deteriorating economy. Since the 2005 incident, the Egyptian government has rarely engaged with the U.N. on refugee issues, but it has inevitably become a transit country as growing numbers of refugees try to enter Europe by sea. At least 400 peopledrowned in the Mediterranean as they attempted to cross over from Egypt to Italy earlier this week. Some of them might have been Sudanese.
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 Hawa, who found herself back in Khartoum just hours after she was arrested in Jordan.
Hawa 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 the Jordanian police quickly thwarted their efforts with brute force and tear gas, according to several Sudanese refugees we spoke to.
“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, Hawa 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 she is also without her baby daughter, who remains in Jordan.
She is stuck, with no means to buy a plane ticket and given the Jordanian authorities have not acknowledged her basic rights as an asylum seeker and the parent of an asylum seeker. Without the help of a humanitarian agency or a government office to advocate on her behalf she has no idea when she will see her daughter again.
This story was produced in collaboration with Nuba Reports.