UK accused of 'illegal and secret' torture screening policy

Sudanese man allegedly enslaved in Libya was deported after officials failed to investigate his past

A picture taken 20 May 2006 shows rebels from the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) in Tina, a small village next to Tawila, a town located 70 kms west of al-Fasher, capital of Northern Darfur. This branch of the SLM loyal to Abdulwaheed Mohamed Nur didn't sign the peace deal with Karthoum. They demand more rights, but have been threatened by the UN security council of sanctions if they don't agree to the peace before May 31. AFP PHOTO/RAMZI HAIDAR (Photo by RAMZI HAIDAR / AFP)

A judge has ordered the British government to track down and bring back a deported Sudanese migrant to the UK after officials failed to investigate his alleged torture in Libya because of an “illegal and secret” department policy.

The man from Darfur, referred to as "AA", was deported because immigration officials failed to identify him as a potential victim of modern slavery who would deserve the protection of the British state.

The man said that he was sold into slavery and tortured in Libya during his journey to Europe after fleeing persecution from Darfur, in the western region of Sudan. Experts said he showed the classic signs of being tortured after being sold by a trafficking gang.

He had already unsuccessfully applied for asylum in France before arriving in Britain in June 2020. Officials carried out an inadequate screening interview and promptly sent him back to France where he was left homeless and destitute.

Under British law, officials have to take steps to identify potential victims and refer their cases for further assessment. But two questions that immigration officers were supposed to ask were quietly dropped by their department to reduce contact time with subjects during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a court ruling.

Lawyers for AA had called for him to be returned to the UK while they pursued legal action against the British government over his case. They feared that if he remained in France he would be returned to Sudan, where his life would be at risk from the state or militia groups that operate in western Sudan.

Britain, unlike France, currently operates a policy of not returning non-Arab Darfuris like AA to Sudan because of the risk to their safety.

In his ruling on Tuesday, High Court judge Mr Justice Wall said: “There is also a strong public interest in the court considering a case in which it is being argued that a Government department was applying an illegal and secret policy.”

If AA had been identified as a potential victim of modern slavery, he would not have been removed pending an investigation and would have been entitled to support in the UK.

“However, the failure to refer him led to a removal of the claimant to France. It ended the country’s responsibility for him”, the judge said.

Government lawyers had claimed that AA had denied being exploited, and that the two questions would not have led him to reveal the torture. But the judge said he showed clear injuries and would probably have given further details of his treatment if he had been asked.

He ordered the Home Office to use its “best endeavours” to bring AA back from France within 14 days. He said it would have to explain any delay if it failed.

The ruling came on the day that Home Secretary Priti Patel introduced plans for the “most radical changes to the broken asylum system in decades”.

A proposed new law makes it a new criminal offence to “knowingly arrive” in the UK without permission, in order to send a “clear message to migrants thinking about making the dangerous and illegal journey”.

The proposals clear the way for a migrant processing centre outside of the UK, increased prison terms for people smugglers and greater powers to turn back boats making the journey from northern Europe to the English coastline.

Ms Patel has faced criticism for failing to deliver on a promise to reduce numbers crossing the English Channel despite spending millions of pounds on security measures. The numbers crossing in small boats run by smuggler gangs have hit record levels in 2021.

Updated: July 7th 2021, 11:33 AM