Omar was born in January 1985 in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, into a family of immigrants from North Darfur. His father was from the Hausa tribe and his mother from the Fulani tribe. This was an unlucky combination as in Sudan both the Hausa and Fulani are strongly oppressed by the government, as are others from Darfur. According to the Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences ‘discrimination of the Hausa, Fulani and Kanuri takes place both at the domestic level…and in the relationship between the authorities and society. Some of the manifestations of this discrimination include…a lack of real social guarantees to these groups by the State and obstacles faced by foreign and Sudanese humanitarian organizations trying to work with these communities. In practice this means that people from these tribes are denied access to education and other social benefits whist human rights activists trying to help risk ending up in prison. Moreover, because the Darfurians are fighting for equal rights with the Arab population of Sudan, the fact of belonging to one of these tribes is, in the eyes of the authorities, a basis for suspicion of links with the revolutionary movements. This means that any Darfurian is in danger of falling into the hands of the Sudanese security forces that are known for their brutality and impunity.
Omar’s parents divorced and left for new families. He was raised by his grandmother. With nothing to live on he started working part-time when he was 6 by selling packets for vegetables at the market. As a child with Hausa and Fulani parents the school didn’t want to take him, but Omar was desperate to learn. The opportunity for this arose when, aged 13, Omar Bashir went to school at the Episcopal Church in Port Sudan. Officially Omar, like his father, was a Muslim but the Christian outlook of the school didn’t bother him. However, it embarrassed the family and after three years his enraged uncle came to take him back to Khartoum in order to start earning some money. However, Omar Bashir insisted on both working and learning and enrolled in a private school. He studied so well that the first year was exempt from payment.
Aged 19 the young Omar started to do charity work. First he and his friends organized the charity organization Husky (meaning light in the Hausa language) which helped people from the tribe defend their right to an education. But a year later after one of their meetings, Omar was detained by the security services in his own home. He was imprisoned for 13 days of torture, beatings and despair. They only let Omar go after, under the threat of repeated torture, he signed a pledge never to gather representatives of the tribe. Omar closed the organization.
But after several months he realized that he couldn’t imagine himself not doing charity work and he joined a major human rights organization which was not limited to only helping Hausa people – therefore the risk of prosecution was much lower. But in 2007 Omar Bashir, who had at that point become Secretary General of the organization, was arrested again. He was again in the hands of the security services.
This time he was tortured for more than a month. Thirty-seven days. They wanted Omar Bashir to confess he was gathering his tribe to instigate disorder. He was expertly beaten – with effort not to cause visible injury, but so he was on the verge of life and death. In June he was released with strict instructions to do nothing to help his tribe.
Omar Bashir understood that he had to flee his country. He didn’t immediately leave but was successful – by October 2007 he arrived in Egypt by boat and he lived in Cairo for five years. He worked, studied law at Cairo University whilst simultaneously studying English and psychology on a scholarship program at the American University in Cairo.
His peace was disturbed in 2011. The Egyptian revolution led to rapprochement with Sudan. One day Omar came home and found everything turned upside down, yet the valuables remained in place – The only thing missing were documents proving that he was continuing to remotely conduct charitable activities in Sudan. Then in December the security services of Sudan, using an Egyptian law under which there was enough evidence for deportation, organized the expulsion of Omar Bashir to his homeland. First he was detained in Egypt and then from the Egyptian prison he was sent to Sudan where Omar was to spend five months. When Omar Bashir went to check in with the security services after imprisonment one of the officers started to threaten him. The Darfurian remembers two phrases well: ‘I’ll be a son of a bitch if I allow you to escape from this country’ and ‘you need to disappear forever.’
After some time a friend contacted Omar that they were looking for him. Escape had become a necessity. Omar managed to escape to Ethiopia and then to Kenya, but there to he was unsafe and under imminent threat of extradition to Sudan. After some months Omar was finally able to obtain a Russian visa with the help of a friend. An Uncle in Kenya helped to buy a ticket to Moscow and gave him 300 dollars.
Omar arrived at Domodedovo Airport on the 30 October 2012. In November he presented himself to Civic Assistance Committee and we helped him to start the procedure to request refugee status at the Federal Migration Service (FMS). Here began his tale of hardship in Russia. First the FMS refused him refugee status and then the provision of temporary shelter. Lawyers from the groups ‘Migration and Law’ of Human Rights Center ‘Memorial’ helped him appeal every decision but to no avail. All this time Omar was wandering, in desperate need. He couldn’t work without documents, didn’t speak Russian and didn’t have money for food and shelter. Omar found himself in a series of bizarre locations in Moscow during these four years – in a flophouse, a commune of eco-anarchists and was helped by the Imam of the Old Mosque of Moscow and us. It was a far from normal existence. At one point we even managed to obtain Omar a room at the temporary accommodation centre for refugees but this only lasted a few months, after which he was again homeless.
UNHCR experts finally made the decision on the relocation of Omar to a third country which would guarantee him asylum. This means that the young Sudanese man – and Omar is only 31 – finally has the chance at a normal human life without fear and poverty. Here is what he wrote on his Facebook page, saying farewell to Russia:
‘The hardest moment of any friendship is when it comes time to say goodbye. However much we may want to stay put, change is an integral part of life. The world seems huge, and the distance between friends on opposite sides of it seems incredible. There are many different ways that will allow us to communicate, but even without them there is a secret, known only to real friends. No mountains and valleys the world can divide people whose hearts are joined as one. Goodbye my friends and Moscow!’
By Elena Srapyan, Civic Assistance Committee
Photo by Nasser Nachim