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Displaced, Imprisoned Darfurian Refugee Daoud Ibarahaem Hari on His Return to Darfur to Help Expose the World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis

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Daoud Ibarahaem Hari is one of only three Darfuris who have reportedly been granted refugee status in the United States in the past four years. Daoud fled Sudan in 2003 after an attack on his village in northern Darfur. Then, he did something that few of his fellow hundreds of thousands of refugees have done: He went back to Darfur. In August 2006, he and American journalist Paul Salopek–a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Chicago Tribune–and their driver were imprisoned in Darfur by the Sudanese government for 35 days. Daoud endured harsh treatment including torture and threats to his life. After international pressure, the three were eventually released. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The situation in Darfur has been described by the United Nations as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. More than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced in fighting between rebels and government-backed militias since early 2003.

While the Bush administration has described the situation as a genocide, only three Darfuris have reportedly been granted refugee status in the United States in the past four years. My next guest is one of those three. His name is Daoud Hari. He arrived in the United States eight weeks ago after a nightmarish ordeal in his home country. Daoud fled Sudan in 2003 after an attack on his village in northern Darfur. His brother was killed, his family scattered across Sudan. Daoud eventually found refuge in neighboring Chad.

Then he did something few of his fellow hundreds of thousands of refugees have done: He went back to Darfur. Using a false name and passport, Daoud returned six times over the next three years, leading Western journalists through the region. In August 2006, he and American journalist Paul Salopek, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Chicago Tribune, and their driver were imprisoned in Darfur by the Sudanese government for 35 days. Daoud endured harsh treatment, including torture and threats to his life. After international pressure, the three were eventually released. Daoud returned to Chad, where he was granted refugee status by the United States. He now lives in Asbury Park, New Jersey.

Today, Daoud Hari joins us in our firehouse studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: You grew up in Darfur?


AMY GOODMAN: Until how old were you, you were there and learned English?

DAOUD IBARAHAEM HARI: I born in Darfur, in North Darfur, and I stay at a village called Mozbed and my primary school in that village until the [inaudible] school finished in Darfur. Through my years, all my years, I grow in Sudan. So just only 2003 I left Sudan.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you leave?

DAOUD IBARAHAEM HARI: I left Sudan, you know, when the problems began in Darfur. That’s the same for all the Darfurians. They all leave the village, and, you know, there’s mass attacks from the government and the Janjaweed for the Darfurian people.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain who the Janjaweed are.

DAOUD IBARAHAEM HARI: The Janjaweed is the people, Darfurian Arabs, nomad. They have, you know, horses, and they have camels. They were supplied weapons by the government.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you know they got those weapons from the government, from the Sudanese government?

DAOUD IBARAHAEM HARI: Because they were coming with the government troops, so they had the supplies because those guns they had, there is not any marketing for — the gun markets or where they can get these guns. So the government supplies them, and they use with their troop, and they go in Darfur.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what happened to your family.

DAOUD IBARAHAEM HARI: My family, as the other families in Darfur, the whole villages be destroyed by attacking by air, Antonov bombing and, you know, with the helicopters. And the government troops with the Janjaweed, they shelling the areas, and the people were fleeing.

AMY GOODMAN: How old were you?


AMY GOODMAN: And at the time of the attack?

DAOUD IBARAHAEM HARI: Three years. Thirty-one years.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you with your brother when he was killed?

DAOUD IBARAHAEM HARI: Yes. Actually, it’s not with him, but we tried to keep into people pushing out. But there is — the people have to defend. And the children and women, we have to get out. So as soon as we were running, we know that he’s dead.

AMY GOODMAN: You became a translator for the Chicago Tribune reporter. You later became for Nicholas Kristof, who wrote a piece about you yesterday. You were his translator, as well. But explain what happened when you were all kidnapped.

DAOUD IBARAHAEM HARI: We were kidnapped in August 6, last year, something like one hour and a half from the Chadian border crossing to Darfur. Just we are driving, and we suddenly stopped by some — the militias. It’s not militia, the Sudan Liberation Army, who have peace with the government of Sudan. And we stop, and they asking me, “Where you go?” I said, “I’m going to Farawia.”

AMY GOODMAN: You were with Paul Salopek then and the driver?

DAOUD IBARAHAEM HARI: Yes. Yes. And we’re going to Farawia, and we coming back soon. They said, “Why you didn’t call?” I said I knew that Farawia there is not under any control of SLA, and it’s very close to the border, something like 75 kilometers from the border. So after a while, they separate us, and we had long discussion, ’til they tied me and tied my driver, and they took Paul in the car and we in the back of car. They took us.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened to you in captivity?

DAOUD IBARAHAEM HARI: I think they — anyhow, they accused me that, you know, a spy.

AMY GOODMAN: They said you were a spy?

DAOUD IBARAHAEM HARI: Yeah, I was spying for the America or international media, something like that. And, of course, they knew me that before the peace I will be enter with them something like six times in Darfur, but yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: You were released after 35 days.

DAOUD IBARAHAEM HARI: Yeah, actually we were released in 9 — September 9, yes, after 37 or 38 days.

AMY GOODMAN: And that’s when you went to Chad.

DAOUD IBARAHAEM HARI: Yeah, that’s when I went to Chad in 11 September. And after that, I got little problem in Chad, and UNSCR helped me to get back —

AMY GOODMAN: They were going to return you to Darfur, to Sudan?

DAOUD IBARAHAEM HARI: Yes. Yes. You know, between two countries there’s a lot of different ICEs, so before I was using in Chad a different name, but when they released — when they captured me in Sudan, they knew that I’m a Darfuri and [inaudible] over there, and they give, I think, they supply for the Chadian government or Chadian security, that’s my real name, and the Chadians, they knew that I am not a Chadian, I’m Darfurian, I’m working with not any permission. So that’s what caused me some problem, and as a problem, they wanted to return me to Sudan.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you translate for reporters? How did you end up doing that for Paul Salopek of the Chicago Tribune, for Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times?

DAOUD IBARAHAEM HARI: You know, we have to do something, as we are Darfurian. We [inaudible]. All the area was burning. The people were dying. And all the village were burned, and, you know, everything was devastated. So this is my way to let international media know what is happening in Darfur exactly. So that’s why I start to, because the international media, when the journalists they come, they need to cross Darfur. They wanted to see what’s happening exactly. So they need someone from Darfur. They know the roads and they took them to villages and where the people were buried, so I know, so I have to do that.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined in Washington, D.C., by Chris Nugent, an immigration attorney who represented Daoud in his bid to come to the United States. Can you talk about the process by which Daoud Hari became — got political asylum in this country and how difficult it is? What, was he one of three Darfuris who have gotten that in the United States?

CHRISTOPHER NUGENT: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us.

CHRISTOPHER NUGENT: Yes, thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here. Daoud had an extraordinary case that we were able to bring to the attention of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Office and the U.S. government. And as the threats escalated against him in Darfur and in November he was actually being threatened by the Chadian government to be swapped as a prisoner of war with the Sudanese, we were able to get him out of Chad to Akra, Ghana, where the U.S. government processed him as a refugee and resettled him into the United States in record time.

It only took three months to actually get him from beginning to end of the process, whereas for many refugees abroad going through the refugee resettlement process, it can take upwards to a year. So this was expedited processing, given the severe risk of harm that he faced both in Chad, as well as Sudan, if he had been deported to Sudan. So we’re very thankful to the U.S. government for paying attention to his predicament and acting very quickly on his case.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Daoud had some high-level intervention. Bono spoke on his behalf, former President Jimmy Carter, as well as New Mexico governor and presidential — Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson. What about people who have less high-level connections? And, of course, he was a translator for major reporters in this country.

CHRISTOPHER NUGENT: Yes, well, refugee resettlement is considered the least preferred of endurable solution for refugees abroad. The first solution under international law that is prioritized is voluntary repatriation to the country of origin. The second solution is considered integration in the country of refuge. The third solution is refugee resettlement. So it is not something that is available to all refugees abroad, and refugees are hand-picked based on their characteristics of being vulnerable or having family ties in the United States for the resettlement process.

So, Daoud, ironically, when he was in Ghana, you know, ran into Darfuri family members who had been living in camps in Ghana for four to five years, who are not eligible for the resettlement process. Daoud was eligible because of his extraordinary circumstances as a marked man in Chad, as well as in Sudan. But refugee resettlement is not for everyone, and most refugees are not going to be resettled to the United States or an industrialized country.

AMY GOODMAN: Daoud, do you know many people from Darfur who perhaps have applied for refugee status here or political asylum in the United States?

DAOUD IBARAHAEM HARI: I have been in contact in Ghana something like several hundred Darfurians in refugees camp in Ghana. Those something like from 700, 250 families, they have very hard circumstances in Ghana, and they use to apply for resettlement in United States, in Canada and Australia, but very few of them they get a chance to resettlement in Australia, something like 13 person from 700 in Australia, but they didn’t get a chance to resettlement in United States at all.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re living in Asbury Park, New Jersey, now. What are your plans?

DAOUD IBARAHAEM HARI: My plan, of course, I’m going to looking for school for educating some years. And I have to talk about Darfur everywhere or be on anytime to let the news people, the United States people, they know that’s what is happening right now in Darfur.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Daoud Hari is here in the United States, did receive political asylum, was from Darfur. We’ll link to his stories on our website at Christopher Nugent, an attorney with the law firm Holland & Knight in Washington, D.C., worked with him in getting political asylum in the United States. Thank you for joining us.


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