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Darfur Refugees Risk Deportation from Britain

The fate of hundreds of refugees from Sudan's Darfur region may well hinge on what happens in Britain's House of Lords. The highest court in Britain is deciding whether it is safe to return Darfuri asylum seekers to Sudan. The British government brought the case to the Law Lords because it wants to overturn an earlier decision by the Court of Appeal, after it ruled that deporting three Darfuri asylum-seekers to Khartoum would be unduly harsh. VOA's Mandy Clark reports from London.

Abdo Yahya Abdullah has done something that more than 200,000 others could not do. He made it out of Darfur alive. Three years ago, he says 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," he said.

Only Abdullah's 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 don't 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'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. Britain's House of Lords is considering whether or not to return Darfur asylum seekers to Sudan's capital.

James Smith is chief executive of the Aegis Trust, which campaigns against genocide. He says there is evidence those 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,” said Smith.

The Trust is so convinced of this evidence that it tried to reach politicians with a hard-hitting advertisement, but the Labor Party refused to show it at a recent party conference. The Home Office has refused to comment on the advertisement, but released a statement on the court case.

The statement says the court did not find that non-Arab Darfuris would be at risk of mistreatment in Khartoum. Instead it found that they would be ill equipped for city living.

Human rights campaigners want the evidence of abuse to be considered but the House of Lords cannot because it was not presented at the 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. I hope they consider our case and look after us."

Campaigners also argue that unless there is a ceasefire and a peace agreement between the rebels and the Sudanese government, and a secure environment allowing people to return to their homes 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."

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