BY GUEST BLOGGER | February 23, 2016
Today’s Voices for Justice post is from Julie Whittaker, a Fairfield University alumna currently studying for her Master in Public Affairs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School for Public & International Affairs. Julie previously volunteered for two years with Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Jordan, where she worked with Sudanese refugees.
On Friday, December 18th, the Jordanian government deported 585 Sudanese refugees back to Sudan, ignoring the outcry of the international community. I grew close to this warm and resilient community during my time in Jordan working with JRS; however, I also saw firsthand that Sudanese refugees are truly living at the margins, overshadowed by Jordan’s other refugee influxes and overlooked in service provision. Jordan was home to approximately 4,000 Sudanese, primarily Darfuri, refugees and asylum seekers before the deportation.
One of my friends, Ahmad (name changed), a 23-year-old refugee from Darfur, has written the below account of the deportations, outlining the grave violation of international human rights that, in just three days from December 16 to 18, led to the forcible return of 585 Sudanese refugees to Sudan.
“On December 16, 2015, the Jordanian government broke up a month-long protest held by Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers at the U.N. Refugee Agency office in Amman, Jordan. Jordanian police and military arrived in the middle of night and brought the Sudanese to the airport, where they waited on buses for hours.
Early on December 17, Jordanian authorities brought the refugees and asylum seekers to a hangar located near the airport. The police eventually brought food and blankets to the detainees, but as the day progressed, skirmishes broke out between police and several asylum seekers. There were shouts and screams, and police later used batons to control the crowd. Then the police locked the doors and used tear gas inside the building.
Finally, in the early morning on December 18, 585 refugees and asylum seekers were deported to Sudan.
Those protesting at UNHCR felt they had run out of options; without work permits or financial assistance, how could they survive? During the Sudanese community’s protest, UNHCR Foreign Relations Officer, Helen Dblekor, stated that UNHCR was working to provide financial support for Sudanese refugees and that UNHCR had referred Sudanese refugees’ files for resettlement. However, many Sudanese maintain that they are neglected; they feel that UNHCR’s statements on financial assistance and resettlement were only a response to international media coverage and not accompanied by any real support.
Jordanian authorities claimed that the deportees had entered the country seeking medical treatment, and therefore they were not refugees. However, the deportees held UNHCR documents stating that they were either refugees or asylum seekers.
Let us be clear: returning Sudanese Darfuri individuals, be they refugees or asylum seekers, puts them directly at risk. According to Human Rights Watch, “the level of violence in Darfur in recent months is comparable to the peak of the conflict, in 2004. Government forces including the RSF have systematically burned and looted villages, raped untold numbers of women, and killed those who resisted their attacks.”
Critical problems remain. First, there is the fate of the 585 deported, mostly persons protected by UNHCR, who have been returned to the hands of the genocidal regime of Sudan. Second, other Sudanese refugees in Jordan are in danger, as they fear being rounded up and returned to Sudan. For example, on Thursday, December 17, my roommate went out to get bread but never came back, which indicates that he was detained by police and deported. I have not heard from him since he left our apartment. Because of experiences like this, the remaining refugees, including myself, are fearful about living in Jordan after the deportation. Third, the people of Darfur are still being systematically destroyed within Sudan. Nearly ten thousand Darfuri people have recently been displaced, and the situation is worsening as the Sudanese government continues to persecute them. Unfortunately, Darfuri people everywhere are living in the shadows of displacement and crisis.”
Who will stand up for these Sudanese on the margins? Please lend your voice by signing this petition from the Darfur Women Action Group.