Why this story matters:
A few months ago the Belgian Secretary of State for Asylum, Migration and Administrative Simplification, Theo Francken, invited Sudanese government officials to identify migrants and arrange documents for their forced repatriation. He wanted them to inspect over 100 migrants who were camping in the center of Brussels.
“This is not exceptional -- we follow many other European countries,” Francken defended his decision.
He claimed that intelligence services had screened the three officials prior to their arrival to make sure they were not secret agents. Many protested against this move -- not only Amnesty International and other human rights organizations but also left-wing opposition parties and even members of the ruling majority. According to them, it is unacceptable to send people back to conflict areas.
Amnesty pointed to the questionable human rights situation in Sudan, where the security apparatus has an iron grip on society.
“There is a deeply rooted culture of impunity of the security services there -- they are not scared to torture and abuse civilians', the organization stated.
In 2016, Amnesty International investigated testimonies of Sudanese citizens who declared that they were arrested, abused and tortured by Sudanese authorities after a forced return from Jordan. Today, the same is happening to the Sudanese migrants who were deported from Belgium, claims Koert Debeuf from the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.
“We investigated what happened to them and whether they were safe. This was not the case. They all feared for their lives.” The worst case scenario became reality, he claims.
Since the news is out in the open, it triggered an immense outcry from several political parties -- also of the majority. The Secretary of State now wants to investigate the situation.
“Torture is unacceptable”, declares Theo Francken.
The question remains -- could this situation have been prevented in the first place?
Details from the story:
- A number of Sudanese migrants, who were deported or returned home from Belgium on their own, claim to have suffered maltreatment and incarceration upon their return.
- Before returning, they all declared to members of a Sudanese special identification team -- invited to Belgium by the Secretary of State -- that they feared this scenario.
- The Sudanese were part of a group of hundreds of transits migrants detained in the Maximiliaan Park in Brussels. They had no documents allowing them to live here legally and refused to request asylum.
- The fact that the Sudanese identification team participated in the case stirred controversy at the time, due to Sudan's poor human rights record.
- Since then, 9 of the Sudanese returned home -- 4 of them voluntarily. According to testimonies collected by the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, some of them were tortured and 2 out of the 9 have since fled Sudan again and are en route to Europe.
- “We warned against this development several months ago,” recalls Tahrir Institute's Koert Debeuf. They believe that the testimonies are shocking.
- Human rights organizations and members of political parties, both from the opposition and the ruling majority, insist that the government does not repeat its mistake. “As long as the situation is not clear, we can't send people back to Sudan anymore”, claim representatives of the CD&V party, a member of the majority.
- Theo Francken, the Secretary of State responsible for the situation, has not heard of any testimonials of alleged maltreatment but promises to "investigate the matter”. He pointed out that the UN has not confirmed the cases of torture. According to Mr. Francken, Belgium has respected international law and the Sudanese migrants should have contacted the International Organization for Migration if they thought that they would be tortured upon their arrival in Khartoum.