Sudanese singer faces deportation from Netherlands despite safety fears

Rejection of Mohamed al-Tayeb’s asylum case comes amid changes to immigration policy critics say are an attempt to placate far right

A Sudanese singer whose television appearance on The Voice brought him threats from security officers is facing deportation from the Netherlands, where he has lived for two years.

Mohamed al-Tayeb, 30, who appeared on the Arabic version of the show in 2015, has been told his request for asylum had been rejected. The Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) said it did not believe he would be harmed if he returned to Sudan, following the ousting of Omar al-Bashir last year, but critics accuse the Dutch government of playing politics over anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Tayeb’s case comes as the Netherlands introduces a policy to reassess asylum claims of other Sudanese people from Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile who have temporary residents’ permits or who were granted residency on the basis of safety. The INS said “the situation in these areas has improved in recent years”. So far 100 people have been told their claims are being reassessed but up to 3,000 could be affected.

Tayeb, who comes from central Sudan rather than any of the regions affected by the policy change, said he felt angry at his rejection and has lodged an appeal.

“There’s no justice in this universe. I lost hope in the immigration authority and in the entire world,” he said.

Tayeb has spent the past two years in temporary accommodation and living on €59(£53) a week. His claim to asylum followed his appearance on The Voice – watched by more than 16 million people, and making him the most viewed Sudanese singer online – which he said marked him out to the Sudanese authorities, who then tried to get him to perform, at their political events, which he refused to do. He claims the refusals led to him being arrested by Sudanese intelligence officers.

“They [the government] tried to manipulate me to sing for them and at their events. When I refused, they threatened me,” he said in a phone interview.

He was arrested twice in 2016. In January 2018 he was held for three days after protesting against austerity measures and rising commodity prices.

He said the authorities tried to stop him working and cancelled a performance.

Tayeb said he does not feel safe going back to Sudan, and fears for the safety of his mother and younger siblings who are still living in central Sudan.

In June, men in plain clothes visited his family home and threatened his mother after a song he performed in memory of those killed in demonstrations in June 2019 was aired on a pro-democracy TV channel Sudan Bukra.

“I fear for my life and my freedom after threats of being detained by the militias and the security authorities, because I was arrested three times in Sudan and they threatened my mother recently.”

A number of organisations have written to the Dutch authorities urging them not to deport Tayeb. Freemuse, a Danish-based NGO, wrote: “Freemuse is convinced that Mr Mohamed will face a serious security situation, and possibly long-term imprisonment, upon his return to Sudan. Therefore, we strongly support his request for protection.”

Mohamed al-Tayeb
Mohamed al-Tayeb fears for the safety of his mother and siblings who are still in Sudan. Photograph: Judith Jockel/The Guardian

Pieter Smit, a Dutch academic researching asylum policy, said Tayeb’s case is an indirect result of the government in the Netherlands trying to stop anti-immigrant sentiment.

“The government attempts to limit the argument, and they fear the far right-wing opposition,” he said.

El Imam Musa of the Sudanese Asylum Seekers Committee in the Netherlands said the new policy was unfair. “Some of these people are witnesses of the genocide in Darfur. I don’t know why this government wants to send them back,” he said.

Margriet Luttikhuizen, a spokesperson for the INS, said: “Sudanese applicants from Darfur, South Kordofan and the Blue Nile no longer receive subsidiary protection solely because of the general situation, ie conflict in the region. They can receive international protection or subsidiary protection on an individual basis, if they are eligible for such protection.”

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Zeinab Mohammed Salih

The GuardianTramp

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