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Britain Just Charged This Refugee Who Fled Civil War with Obstructing Traffic

A Sudanese refugee who walked on foot through the tunnel from France to Europe was found guilty of obstructing train traffic.

CALAIS, FRANCE - AUGUST 03:  People walk across train tracks near the Eurotunnel terminal in Coquelles on August 3, 2015 in Calais, France.  Hundreds of migrants are continuing to attempt to enter the Channel Tunnel and onto trains heading to the United Kingdom.  (Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty Images)
CALAIS, FRANCE - AUGUST 03: People walk across train tracks near the Eurotunnel terminal in Coquelles on August 3, 2015 in Calais, France. Hundreds of migrants are continuing to attempt to enter the Channel Tunnel and onto trains heading to the United Kingdom. (Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty Images)

Last year, thousands of migrants and asylum-seekers desperate to reach Britain flooded into the French town of Calais, where they snuck onto U.K.-bound cargo trucks and prompted French officials to implement security measures that led to traffic jams so long they backed up for miles.

Sudanese asylum-seeker Abdul Rahman Haroun was among those crowds, but he made his way into the 31-mile tunnel that connects France to Britain another way: on foot.

On August 4, 2015 he walked for 11 hours straight, stopping only when he was arrested about a mile outside the tunnel’s exit on the British side. It wasn’t a very warm welcome: He was charged with obstructing train traffic by walking the entire length of the tunnel in order to try to seek asylum in the U.K.

He was granted asylum on Christmas Eve, but on Wednesday he was sentenced to nine months in prison for last year’s obstruction charge. He ultimately pled guilty to breaking the Malicious Damage Act of 1861, which the court applied to his obstruction of the tunnel. Haroun won’t actually serve anytime behind bars, however, because the court applied his time spent waiting for a trial towards his sentence. 

The case has sparked controversy in Britain, where some lawmakers wanted to make an example out of Haroun and refuse to grant him asylum despite his assertions that his life would be in danger if he returned to his native Sudan.

Through a translator, Haroun told British officials that he had fled to avoid being recruited by the violent Janjaweed militia, which has killed thousands of people in his native Sudan. After living in refugee camps for years, Haroun traveled from Sudan to Egypt, then to Libya, across the sea to Italy, and finally to France, where he stayed until he made his way to Britain by way  of the tunnel. According to records of his meetings with police, Haroun said he went to the U.K. “for protection and to be safe.”

“Even if I die — that was the only solution,” he told them.

Conservative lawmakers weren’t impressed, and MP Damian Collins said after he was granted asylum that it could prompt others waiting in limbo in France to make the same trek.

“What we want to do is send a message to those people in Calais that if you try and break into our country by hiding in vehicles or trains – or by walking through the Channel Tunnel – you will immediately lose your right to making an asylum claim in this country,” he said. “This is completely the wrong message to send to other migrants waiting in Calais.”

On Wednesday, British Judge Adele Williams said Haroun would not have to serve additional time, but that “anyone else who might be tempted to commit this offence in the future can only expect any immediate sentence of imprisonment.”

She added that his decision to obstruct the tunnel “caused enormous inconvenience to a large number of people…[and] significant economic loss.”

Haroun, who is from the Darfur region of Sudan, has been displaced since 2004, so he knows all about “inconvenience.” One his lawyers, Sadie Castle, said he was just relieved to not be returning to prison.

“His priority now is to focus on rebuilding his life in the U.K.,” she said outside the courthouse.

Photo credit: Rob Stothard/Getty Images

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