October 27, 2016

UK grants asylum to Sudanese man who walked through Channel Tunnel

Britain has granted asylum to a Sudanese man who made global headlines in August when he walked 50 km (31 miles) through the Channel Tunnel from France to England, highlighting the desperation of many migrants seeking a better life in Europe.

Abdul Haroun, who was arrested at the English end of the tunnel on Aug. 4 and charged with obstructing a railway under an obscure 19th Century law, has been held in prison since then and was due to face trial this month.

In a brief hearing on Monday at Canterbury Crown Court where Haroun appeared by video-link from prison and spoke only to confirm his name, prosecutor Philip Bennetts said Haroun had been granted asylum on Dec. 24.

Bennetts requested 14 days for the prosecution to consider the impact of this new information on the criminal case, suggesting that the charge against Haroun may be dropped.

Judge Adele Williams granted the request, adjourning the case to Jan. 18 for the prosecution to announce their decision. She also granted Haroun immediate bail after Bennetts made clear the prosecution was not opposing his release.

While in prison, Haroun has been supported by a small, local refugee rights group who were able to provide him with an address, which was not disclosed in court.

The judge told Haroun via an interpreter that his bail terms were that he had to live at that address, sleep there every night, and report to a local police station every Wednesday during a two-hour window.

Haroun is the first migrant known to have made it to Britain by foot through the railway tunnel, a perilous 12-hour journey in near total darkness that involved dodging trains travelling at up to 160 km per hour.

Thousands of migrants have been camped out in squalid conditions for months near Calais, the entry point of the tunnel on the French side, hoping to find their way to Britain. Most attempt the crossing by trying to board trains or trucks.

Refugee rights campaigners and immigration lawyers had accused the British authorities of seeking to make an example of Haroun to deter others from following in his footsteps.

The police, prosecution service and immigration authorities have not commented publicly on the case, as is standard when a criminal trial is pending.

Little is known about Haroun, who was 40 at the time of his arrest. The court heard at an earlier hearing that his mother tongue is Zaghawa, suggesting that he may be from Darfur, a region of Sudan ravaged by more than a decade of conflict between government and rebel forces.

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