I fled  Sudan in 2013

Because  I worked as a chauffeur for the Dutch branch of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders [ed.]) in Sudan. They provided aid in conflict areas such as in the Darfur and Blue Nile regions.

The President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, is responsible for many atrocities. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. The work of many humanitarian organisations, such as Doctors Without Borders (DWB), was (and is) hindered by the President and his government.

In 2009, the government deported the Dutch branch of DWB and nearly a dozen other organisations from Sudan. That is when my problems started. The government asked me for information about DWB; I refused to give it to them. They then concluded that I was against the Sudanese government.[1]

There was no daylight, only darkness

One other person and I were arrested and imprisoned in a building of the secret services. They have countless tiny rooms underground, where we were locked up. The rooms were much smaller than cells. You couldn’t lie down; you could only stand up straight or just about squat or sit down. I was there for 23 days. There was no daylight, only darkness.

There were no toilets either. If you had to use the bathroom, you had to use a bucket in that same little room. A guard would then escort you outside, where you were made to dig a hole in the ground for the contents of your bucket. Each time I was taken outside, I nearly fainted from the light and the bright sun. I was no longer used to the light. I was also beaten up badly. I still have a lot of dental problems from the abuse.

I was beaten up badly

I left  when the guard let me go outside alone with my toilet bucket one day. I fled to a friend nearby. He helped me get to Port Sudan by car and arranged everything for me. I was taken to a cargo ship and was secretly received by a man who worked aboard the ship. He took me to a small room filled with pipes. There was a small window. I had no idea where I was. Occasionally, someone would bring me some food, mostly yoghurt and cheese.

The journey took three weeks. I had no idea where the ship was headed. I didn’t even care, I just wanted to leave! I was grateful that I was able to flee, but was also convinced that they would find me and kill me. That was all I could think of.

In Belgium  I arrived in Antwerp in the middle of the night. I was driven to Brussels and dropped off at Brussels-North railway station. There, I had to wait for the Immigration Office to open at 8am the next morning so that I could request asylum.

That morning, I was picked up by an employee of Syrian or Iraqi origin. They took my fingerprints and told me to come back in eight days for a personal interview. I remember them asking me if I wanted to be interviewed by a man or a woman, but what did I care. I had a massive problem so I just wanted someone to listen to me.

I had a massive problem so I just wanted someone to listen to me

I was asked lots of questions: name, age, place of birth, whether I was married, who my parents are. And, naturally, I was asked what happened to me in Sudan. I told them the whole story, showed them my drivers licence, badge, employment and identity papers, and the state of my teeth, to show them that I was abused.

And now  they think I’m a liar. I was able to identify myself with documentation, certificates and photos. But they claim that I am not Kassala! And now the Commissariat has denied my asylum request.

I even asked DWB for help. I had to travel to their Amsterdam office for it. You are not allowed to leave the country while an asylum process is ongoing, but I did it anyway. It’s not like I had anything to lose. DWB found my details in their computer and could see that I worked for them, and when. I was able to personally talk to the director. They made a few phone calls, including to my former superiors in Sudan, who confirmed that I am Kassala.

DWB then wrote a letter for me, which I took to the Belgian organisation Hand in Hand (a group of volunteers that offers support to refugees, asylum seekers, people without papers and newcomers [ed.]). Hand in Hand contacted my superiors in Sudan a second time, for their own confirmation. They sent her my picture and she confirmed once again that I am Kassala and that I worked for her.

I don’t feel like a real person here

With this information, I went back to the Commissariat. But again, I received a negative decision. A third asylum procedure is currently ongoing. They simply refuse to believe that I really am Kassala. I think it’s because I don’t remember all dates by heart anymore. But I am not a computer, I can’t remember everything that happened three years ago to the day. That doesn’t change anything about my story or about the events.

Looking back, it might have been better if I had stayed in Sudan. If I had died there. I don’t feel like a real person here. I hope that you do believe me.

[1] From 2006 onwards, it has become increasingly unsafe in the Sudanese province of Darfur. Humanitarian organisations, including Doctors Without Borders, are regularly attacked and robbed, making the provision of aid practically impossible. Despite the insecurity, our aid workers chose to keep going; after all, the need for help is immense. On 4 March 2009, the Sudanese government ordered DWB to end all their activities in Darfur. From one day to the next, 200,000 people lost their medical care as DWB left Sudan [ed.]



Logo SNS

As part of the Belgium street art route ‘Sorry, Not Sorry’, our Moving People were placed in different locations in Ghent. On April 26 (2016), thousands of miniature refugees (Tourad, Kassem, Avin, Kassala and Claudine) were scattered in the streets and in public places in Ghent. On May 7 & 8, during the festival, again 500 miniatures were placed.