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European court rules Belgium’s deportation of Sudanese migrant broke international law

11:05 28/10/2020

Belgium breached international law in 2017 when it deported a Sudanese man to Khartoum without determining the risks he might have faced upon return, according to a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday.

The ruling on the case – referred in court proceedings as ‘M.A. v. Belgium’ - highlights the Belgian authorities’ failure to protect people fleeing human rights violations.

M.A., a Sudanese national who was apprehended by Belgian authorities in Brussels, was detained as part of a series of large operations to identify irregular migrants and subsequently deported without an assessment of the risk of human rights violations upon return and with the cooperation of the Sudanese authorities, the court stated.

In order to facilitate M.A’s return, Belgian authorities enabled Sudanese officials to meet him. By invitation, and with full authorisation, Sudanese security officials travelled to Belgium to interview M.A. and other migrants and confirm their nationality. The court also ruled that M.A. was pressured into signing a paper acknowledging his return as “voluntary”.

M.A was one of 99 Sudanese nationals detained by Belgian authorities in 2017, 10 of whom were deported between October and December 2017. According to testimonies, some of the returnees were ill-treated by Sudanese officials upon arrival.

When delivering its ruling, the court quoted a statement from Amnesty International from January 2018 which criticised Belgium’s policy of forcible returns to Sudan, pointing at “substantive and procedural breaches by Belgium of the principle of non-refoulement, which protects all people, whether they seek asylum or not, from being forcibly transferred to a country where they would be at real risk of serious human rights violations.”

By cutting corners to ensure M.A’s prompt deportation to Sudan, the court stated, and by failing to assess the risks he would be exposed to upon return, the Belgian authorities had failed in their human rights obligations.

Written by Nick Amies