Remembering a remarkable man and treasured Haringey resident
We are devastated to report that on Saturday 16 January, Majed Hassan (also known as Sharif), a dear friend, member and supporter of Haringey Welcome, was killed during an armed attack on a displaced persons camp in El Geneina, the regional capital of West Darfur State, Sudan.
As the camp came under siege by armed militia groups, Majed had been attempting to help civilian women and children escape to safety; but he was found by armed men, brutally beaten, and shot dead. The violence was so intense that his body could only be retrieved two days later. He is survived by a baby daughter.
Majed was a remarkable person. He was someone of extraordinary warmth, resilience, generosity and integrity who loved and lived life to the full. He was a free spirit who never gave up hope of building a better life for his family and community, both in Darfur and in the UK. He wouldn’t hesitate a second to help anyone needing assistance.
Majed joined our delegation to the European Parliament in October 2019 where we presented our petition for UK migrants and refugees’ rights and protections, which were and are further threatened by the Brexit deal. He also allowed us to share parts of his story at one of our events, so that people could understand the experiences of refugees both before they arrive and when they try to seek asylum in the UK.
He was born into the Masalit tribe and grew up in the village of Sendikoro, Darfur. A peasant farmer from early in life, his high intelligence and practical nous meant he was able to turn his hand to almost any task and was amazingly adaptable; he was also a house builder, shepherd, and livestock and agricultural trader. He was happily married and he and his wife had two young sons.
Over time, tensions over resources began to increase in Darfur. Eventually conflict erupted between the sedentary farming population and the nomadic mainly ‘Arab’ tribes. By 2002-3 the spark that was to set the flame of genocide ablaze had been lit by Sudan’s dictator Omar al-Bashir, who armed the Janjaweed militia and sent them in to raze villages and kill their inhabitants.
The genocide was to claim the lives of approximately 300,000 people and to displace millions into camps. During this unfolding situation, Majed, along with many others seeking to protect their villages, was arrested and tortured before he finally managed to flee to the UK and claim asylum.
Majed arrived in the UK in 2003 and eventually became a British Citizen and a long-standing resident of Tottenham. Throughout his time in the UK he touched the lives of many people and made numerous friendships, but he was appallingly let down by the British establishment. His experience exemplifies how the Hostile Environment impacts the lives of so many migrants and refugees who come here, as well as the lives of Black and minority ethnic citizens.
After he had been given poor legal advice, the Home Office rejected Majed’s first asylum claim. His subsistence support was cut off and he found himself destitute. On someone’s advice and in desperation, he attempted to make a second asylum claim using another name, but his fingerprints had been kept on record.
He was soon accused of making a false claim and sentenced to nine months in prison, after which he was to be deported. At this point his UK-based cousin, together with some members of Freedom from Torture, got to learn of his plight and were able to intervene, getting Majed proper legal advice and representation. He was released from detention, granted asylum, and came to live in Haringey in 2005.
But tragically his troubles were not over. He discovered that during the time wasted confirming his refugee status, his wife and two sons had fallen victim to the genocide back home. This devastating news was then compounded by months of homelessness before he was eventually housed in Tottenham.
Majed faced one barrier after another while attempting to integrate. He found it impossible to access ESOL and other training. His ambition to get a university degree was thwarted and he was limited to low-paid, insecure manual work. Even his initial attempt to become a British Citizen was rejected. He finally achieved this milestone after ten years, in 2013.
With a British passport he was able to travel more easily. He visited Australia twice and worked as a farm labourer, picking onions and other crops. He adored his time there, enjoying the heat, natural environment, and simple life. It reminded him of Darfur…
Eventually after fourteen years away he felt ready to pay a return visit to Darfur, and whilst he was there he remarried. Bringing his new wife to the UK was an ambition, but again he was faced with a myriad of rules and obstacles that would have taken him a number of years to surmount. He meanwhile visited annually, and last year they were expecting their first child. Tragically his wife recently died. He had returned to make arrangements to bring his young daughter to the UK.
We feel furious and distraught that the British system led Majed to be re-traumatised, criminalised, impoverished, humiliated, and to suffer increasingly poor health, instead of allowing him a timely family reunion and supporting him to integrate, access education, and contribute fully to society with his abundant skills and energy.
Together with many others, we are currently grieving for Majed. We are also thinking about fitting and useful ways to support his family, to honour his memory, and to celebrate this wonderful man’s exceptional life. He will always be treasured and he will never be forgotten.
Further reading about the current situation in Darfur and Sudan: