The Home Office has been accused of operating an “unashamedly racist” refugee system after refusing to offer people fleeing fighting in Sudan a safe and legal route to the UK, in stark contrast to the schemes offered to those escaping the war in Ukraine.
With the final evacuation flight from Khartoum to the UK having left last week, a lack of options from the UK government has crystallised concern that it has adopted a segregated immigration policy. No safe and legal routes have been made available to help Sudanese refugees flee and there is no sign of an announcement outlining a new scheme to deal with the fallout of the conflict.
By contrast, almost 300,000 visas have been issued for Ukrainians to leave their war-torn country, including 193,900 for its homes sponsorship scheme, launched in March 2022. Another 94,900 have been granted for a family scheme allowing Ukrainian refugees to join relatives in the UK.
Immigration experts increasingly believe the explanation for such contrasting approaches is the skin colour of those fleeing the two countries.
Caitlin Boswell, policy and advocacy manager for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) said: “The racism of the UK’s immigration system couldn’t be more clear, with this government drawing policies affecting people seeking safety along stark racial lines. At the same time, ministers are using unashamedly inflammatory and far-right language, whipping up hatred towards black and brown migrants.”
Fizza Qureshi, chief executive of the Migrants’ Rights Network, said: “The blatant refusal to provide the level of sanctuary and safety for Sudanese refugees in comparison to white Ukrainians has firmly exposed the unashamedly racist thinking at the heart of immigration legislation. They have created a segregated refugee system.
“It is clear that any shred of compassion for black and brown refugees has well and truly disappeared.”
Raga Ahmad of the London-based Sudanese Community and Information Centre (SCIC), said: “We are treated differently to Ukrainians. Colour and race should not matter when there is a war. The prime minister [Rishi Sunak] needs to answer, ‘What is the difference between a Ukrainian refugee and a Sudanese refugee?’”
A government spokesperson said: “It is wrong to compare and set vulnerable groups against each other. Preventing a humanitarian emergency in Sudan is our focus right now.
“Alongside the UK evacuation effort, we are working with international partners and the UN to bring an end to fighting. We have no plans to open a bespoke resettlement route for Sudan.”
The Refugee Council said the Home Office had the power to help far more Sudanese people, but had so far refused.
“It has significant discretion it can use to grant visas, particularly in response to exceptional circumstances, but has decided not to,” said its chief executive, Enver Solomon.
He added: “We must prioritise creating safe routes for refugees: just as we welcomed refugees from Ukraine when Russia invaded last year.”
So far the UK has flown more than 2,300 people on flights from Khartoum, including Britons, their dependants, Sudanese NHS staff and other eligible nationalities, but no more trips are planned.
Boswell said that the Home Office’s response to another troubled state – Afghanistan – supported the claim that the government was pursuing a racist agenda.
The Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) was launched in January 2022 with a promise to help vulnerable people, including women and girls at risk and to resettle up to 20,000 people. Yet just 22 Afghan citizens have been resettled in the UK under the relevant part of the scheme.
“It’s a ridiculous number. It’s not functioning at all. All the government’s schemes – except for Ukraine – are not fit for purpose,” said Boswell.
Humanitarian experts have described the UK’s response to Sudan’s refugee crisis as chaotic. Home secretary Suella Braverman has ruled out creating safe and legal routes for Sudanese people while wrongly claiming Sudanese asylum seekers have “various” legal ways to reach the UK – a falsehood that prompted a rebuke from the UN’s refugee agency.
Foreign secretary James Cleverly quickly contradicted his fellow cabinet member, stating that the government would eventually create “safe and legal routes” for Sudanese, yet pointedly refused to “speculate on the numbers of [sic] nature of those routes.”Meanwhile the Refugee Council has identified steps that should be taken by the UK government to help more Sudanese safely resettle.
The organisation says that family reunion applications from Sudanese nationals should be expedited and family reunion eligibility expanded to reflect the reality for families separated by forced displacement.
In addition, the council says the UK should reflect its historical colonial status with Sudan and play a leading role in the global response to how those displaced by the ongoing fighting can be supported.
Solomon added that the UK’s global resettlement scheme should resettle far larger numbers of people and be able to provide emergency resettlement places in response to ongoing fighting like the one facing Sudan.
Last year only 1,185 people were resettled in the UK, including 218 Sudanese.
The government spokesperson added: “Since 2015 we have offered a safe and legal route to the UK to almost half a million people seeking safety but our approach must be considered in the round, rather than on a crisis-by-crisis basis.”
A government source added that “exceptional cases” relating to Sudan had been referred back to officials in the UK as needed, including to ministers.