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Darfur Refugees Risk Deportation From UK

The fate of hundreds of refugees from Sudan's Darfur region rests in the hands of Britain's House of Lords. The highest British court, the Law Lords, is to decide within the next few weeks whether it is safe to return three Darfuri asylum seekers to Sudan. VOA's Mandy Clark reports from London.

Many voices with one plea. Stop deporting Darfuris back to Sudan. Dozens of asylum seekers and their supporters gathered recently outside the House of Lords in central London to make their case.

Abdo Yahya Abdullah was one of them. He managed to do something more than 200,000 other could not, he made it out of Darfur alive. Abdullah says that three years ago rebels attacked his village killing most of his family and his wife, who was seven months pregnant.

"My brother and my wife, they die. My father and my sister are disappeared," Abdullah said.

Abdullah says only his mother, his younger brother, and his three-year-old son survived, but when the village came under attack again, he lost them as they fled.

"I do not know if they die or if they survive. But one day I will go back to search where is my mother, where is my son, where is my brother," Abdullah said.

Abdullah's plight is not unique. Roughly 500 Darfur refugees have made it to Britain since fighting involving rebels, government troops, and government-backed militias broke out in Darfur in 2003. But now, their safe haven in Britain is under threat.

The British government says there is no evidence that Darfuri asylum seekers returned to Khartoum face punishment or torture, and it wants to be able to deport the refugees as it deems fit. The Home Office wants the House of Lords to overturn an earlier ruling by the Court of Appeal, which stated that returning Darfuri refugees to Khartoum would be "unduly harsh."

The current case before the Law Lords concerns three asylum seekers, but human rights activists say the fate of hundreds of others hangs in the balance.

James Smith is chief executive of the Aegis Trust, which campaigns against genocide. He says Darfuris who are sent back will face abuse.

"The Aegis trust has compelling evidence that those who are deported to Khartoum are often picked up at the airport and tortured," Smith said.

Human rights campaigners want the evidence of abuse to be considered by the Law Lords, but it cannot - because such evidence was not presented at the lower Court of Appeal.

Hatem Mohammed Hussein was an asylum seeker who was deported to Khartoum, but has made his way back to Britain. He says it is too dangerous to return to Sudan.

"When I been to Khartoum I was abused by the government and the Sudanese authority in the airport," Hussein said. "I hope they consider our case and look after us in Britain."

Human rights activists argue that unless there is a ceasefire and a peace agreement between the rebels and the Sudanese government, and a secure environment for people to return to in Darfur, the British government should not deport Darfuris to Khartoum, whatever the verdict of the House of Lords.

Abdo Yahya Abdullah says returning to Sudan would be a death sentence.

"If I go back, 99 percent rebels will kill me. One hundred percent government can kill me," Abdullah said.

But for now, Abdullah and hundreds of others wait for the Law Lords to decide their fate.