The Home Office has been accused of running a “brazenly racist” refugee system after denying people fleeing fighting in Sudan a safe and legal route to the UK, in stark contrast to a scheme for those fleeing war in Ukraine.
With the last evacuation flight from Khartoum to the UK taking off last week, the British government’s lack of options has fueled concerns about its segregated immigration policy. There are no safe and legal routes for Sudanese refugees to flee, and there is no sign of a new plan outlined to deal with the aftermath of the conflict.
By contrast, nearly 300,000 visas have been issued for Ukrainians to leave the war-torn country, including 193,900 visas under the family sponsorship scheme launched in March 2022. There is also a 94,900 family scheme, which allows Ukrainian refugees to reunite with relatives in the UK.
Immigration experts are increasingly convinced that the reason for the contrasting practices is the skin color of those fleeing the two countries.
Caitlin Boswell, policy and advocacy manager at the Joint Committee on Immigrant Welfare (JCWI), said: “The racism of the UK immigration system couldn’t be more apparent and the policy put in place by this government affects people along obvious lines. Racial lines seek safety. Meanwhile, ministers are using brazenly inflammatory and far-right language to stoke hatred against black and brown immigrants.”
Fizza Qureshi, CEO of the Immigrant Rights Network, said: “The blatant denial of asylum and a level of safety for Sudanese refugees compared to white Ukrainians firmly exposes the brazen racist thinking at the heart of immigration legislation. They create a segregated refugee system.
“It’s clear that any empathy for black and brown refugees has really evaporated.”
Raga Ahmad of the London-based Sudanese Community and Information Center (SCIC) said: “We are treated differently than Ukrainians. When there is war, skin color and race don’t matter. Prime Minister [Rishi Sunak] Need to answer, ‘What’s the difference between a Ukrainian refugee and a Sudanese refugee? ‘”
A government spokesman said: “It is wrong to compare and pit disadvantaged groups against each other. Preventing a humanitarian emergency in Sudan is our current priority.
“As well as the UK evacuation efforts, we are working with international partners and the United Nations to end the fighting. We have no plans to develop a bespoke resettlement route for Sudan.”
The Refugee Board says the Home Office has the right to help more Sudanese but has so far declined.
“It has a lot of discretion that it can use to grant visas, especially in response to exceptional circumstances, but decided not to,” said its chief executive, Enver Solomon.
He added: “We must prioritize creating safe passage for refugees: just like we welcomed refugees from Ukraine when Russia invaded last year.”
The UK has put more than 2,300 people on flights from Khartoum so far, including Britons, their dependents, Sudanese NHS staff and other eligible nationalities, but no more travel is planned.
Boswell said the Home Office’s response to another troubled country – Afghanistan – backed up claims that the government was pursuing a racist agenda.
Launched in January 2022, the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) promises to help vulnerable groups, including at-risk women and girls, and resettle up to 20,000 people. However, only 22 Afghan citizens were resettled in the UK under the relevant part of the scheme.
“It’s a ridiculous number. It just doesn’t work. All the government’s programs — except for Ukraine — don’t serve the purpose,” Boswell said.
Humanitarian experts have described Britain’s response to the Sudanese refugee crisis as chaotic. Home Secretary Suella Braverman has ruled out creating a safe and legal route for the Sudanese people while falsely claiming there are “various” legal routes for Sudanese asylum seekers to reach the UK – a lie that sparked condemned by the United Nations refugee agency.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverley was quick to push back against his cabinet members, saying the government would eventually open a “safe and legal route” for the Sudanese, but unequivocally rejecting “speculation [sic] the nature of these routes. In the meantime, the Refugee Council has identified steps the UK government should take to help more Sudanese settle safely.
The group said applications for family reunification by Sudanese nationals should be expedited and eligibility for family reunification should be expanded to reflect the realities of families separated by forced displacement.
In addition, the committee said Britain should reflect its historical colonial position in Sudan and take a leading role in how the global response supports people displaced by ongoing fighting.
Solomon added that the UK’s global resettlement program should resettle many more people and be able to provide emergency resettlement sites in response to the ongoing fighting facing Sudan.
Only 1,185 people resettled in the UK last year, including 218 Sudanese.
A government spokesman added: “Since 2015, we have provided almost half a million people seeking safety with a safe and legal route to the UK, but our approach must be holistic and not crisis-by-crisis.”
A government source added that the “exceptional circumstances” relating to Sudan had been referred back to British officials, including ministers, as required.