news: Reports that deported Sudanese were tortured spark tensions in Belgian government
Allegations that Sudanese refugees deported from Belgium were tortured upon their return has shaken Belgium’s governing coalition. Prime Minister Charles Michel has suspended deportations pending an “independent investigation” with the UN.
The Chamber of Representatives held an emergency meeting late on Friday to hear testimony from Belgium’s secretary of state for immigration, Flemish nationalist Theo Francken. Francken has borne the brunt of the criticism for collaborating with the regime of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court at the Hague for war crimes and on charges of genocide.
Francken invited Sudanese officials to Brussels in September to help authorities identify Sudanese migrants and arrange for their forced repatriation. He wanted the delegation to review the cases of more than 100 migrants, many of whom were arrested camping in Brussels’ Maximilian Park on their way to Britain.
But human rights groups had warned that the Sudanese officials were likely to be security agents for Bashir’s oppressive regime who would deliberately misidentify genuine political refugees as illegal migrants. Belgium’s Human Rights League said the Sudanese were subject to arbitrary arrest and maltreatment and claimed the expulsions were in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. On Wednesday, a court of appeal in Liège threw out a lawsuit lodged by the group in a bid to stop the deportations.
The issue was thrust back into the spotlight after new testimonies compiled by the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy surfaced this week, detailing the arrest and torture of several young refugees who were deported after the “identification mission”.
Minister Charles Michel, who heads a coalition of liberals, Christian Democrats and Flemish nationalists, suspended deportations of Sudanese refugees on Thursday pending an “independent investigation” in collaboration with the United Nations.
Michel initially suspended deportations until the end of January. Francken described the move as “absurd”, saying no new repatriations were scheduled before that deadline.
It was later revealed that at least one new expulsion was to take place within that timeframe, and Francken apologised in a twwet on Friday morning.