Amman – In 2013, Nour Issa and Ahmed Hakim, both in their 20s, fled Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region to Khartoum, and then flew to Jordan.
But last December, hundreds of Sudanese refugees, including Issa and Hakim, were arrested and taken to Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport for deportation. The move came after the men and women, mostly from Darfur, held protests for weeks outside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) headquarters in Jordan against perceived discrimination.
The UN agency contested the government’s decision, but Jordanian authorities reportedly said that asylum conditions did not apply in these cases, saying that the group came to Jordan seeking medical treatment. During protests at the UNHCR offices, though, several people told Al Jazeera that they were seeking refugee status. Jordan is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, despite acting as host to more than two million refugees.
Hakim, who was briefly jailed upon his return to Sudan, says that he and other returnees deported from Jordan are now being detained and pursued by Sudanese authorities, leading them to again seek asylum abroad.
Meanwhile, Issa – one of the few refugees who escaped the mass deportation – left Jordan for Chad in January after keeping a low profile in Amman for a month, fearful of being arrested or deported to Sudan.
Before coming to Jordan, Hakim was a restaurant worker near the Sudanese border with Chad. “I left because the government and ‘Janjaweed’ militias attacked and burned our villages on suspicion that we were insurgents. They killed my brother,” Hakim told Al Jazeera, referring to the Sudanese government-backed militia that has carried out attacks against the local population throughout the war in Darfur.
and keep my head down. We were totally submissive … as they yelled ‘slaves’, ‘rebels’, and other racist slurs at us.”]
Life was hard for Hakim and other Sudanese refugees in Amman. Unable to work legally, some also suffered from racially motivated attacks. But despite the hardships he faced in both Darfur and as a refugee on the streets of Amman, Hakim says that the day he returned to Sudan was the “worst day of my life”.
The Sudanese police acted aggressively upon their return at the airport in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, he said. “They said to us … ‘Why did you leave Jordan, and how?’ ‘Where are you from in Darfur?’ ‘What is your political affiliation?’ ‘Which rebel group do you support?’
“I was then asked to get into a van with five other [refugees] and keep my head down. We were totally submissive … as they yelled ‘slaves’, ‘rebels’, and other racist slurs at us,” Hakim said. Racism against the mostly black population of Darfur by the predominantly Arab central government has been cited as a cause of the ongoing conflict there.
The Sudanese police held Hakim for four days. Finally, a guard allowed an acquaintance of his to pay for his release.
“They said, ‘Don’t be in Khartoum in 24 hours’. I’m still hiding here,” Hakim said. He is now considering fleeing to South Sudan or Egypt.
Before the war and his subsequent journey to Jordan, Issa worked at a supermarket in Kabkabiya, in North Darfur, while also studying. He cut his studies short when he fled his country.
He remembers the unpleasant events of December 16 in vivid detail: “On the day of the deportation, many police cars and buses arrived and woke us up … they took us to the bus and tied our hands behind our backs. We asked them where they were taking us, and they said to ‘the camp’,” Issa told Al Jazeera.
But it soon became clear to Issa that they were being sent home, after authorities took their passports.
“[At a holding facility near the airport] they gave us water, mattresses and blankets … but when people noticed [what was happening] they started shouting and screaming, ‘Where is the UNHCR?’ ‘The Red Cross?'” Violent clashes with police broke out at this point, and tear gas was used, he said.
Some women and children were taken to the hospital before the deportation after having been exposed to the tear gas. It was then that Issa, who volunteered to escort a victim to the hospital, escaped back to Amman. Now in Chad, he ultimately hopes to make it to Europe.
Al Jazeera was unable to reach several of the refugees who were deported, as their phones were turned off and their social media accounts inactive. Similarly, Issa says, he lost touch with many of his friends after the deportation.
“I spoke with some when they first got to Sudan, but after that I haven’t spoken with them,” he recalled. “They said, ‘Don’t come here. It’s hell, and your life will be in danger.'”