Mende Nazer: Fighting for Asylum

Mende Nazer
Mende Nazer (Photo courtesy

As she explains it, Mende Nazer was abducted as a child from her village in Sudan, sold into slavery, and kept hostage in Khartoum and London. She has parlayed her dramatic story into a memoir, and has asked for political asylum in Britain.

Alwin Schröder reported in Hamburg’s Der Spiegel that when Nazer was 12 or 13 (she doesn’t know her date of birth), armed Arab militia stormed her village in the Nuba Mountains on a front line of Sudan’s 19-year civil war between the Muslim-dominated government of the north and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). They raped the women and children (including Nazer), and maimed and massacred many inhabitants. Then they kidnaped the children and sold them into slavery—for US$150 each.

The United Nations estimates that up to 15,000 Sudanese, primarily in southern Sudan, have been abducted and sold into slavery by militiamen loyal to Sudan’s Islamist government. According to Human Rights Watch, this slave trade is sanctioned by Sudan’s regime as part of its counterinsurgency war against the SPLM/A.

Nazer claims she was physically and sexually abused as a house slave for a wealthy family in Khartoum. After six years, she says, she was passed on to the wife of Sudanese diplomat Abdel Mahmoud al-Koronky in London. She managed to escape on Sept. 11, 2000, with the help of a fellow Sudanese. The same year, Nazer applied for asylum. She then co-wrote a book with British journalist Damien Lewis about her plight titled Sklavin (Slave), which was published in September 2002 in Germany and has become a bestseller.

Some elements of her story, however, have been disputed. After London’s Sunday Telegraph printed in September 2000 a second-hand account of Nazer’s experience as a slave in Al-Koronky’s household, the diplomat sued the paper for libel. In July 2002, before the case went to trial, the paper retracted its story and agreed to pay damages.

In October, the British Home Office, in a ruling that puzzled human-rights activists, rejected Nazer’s asylum petition, stating, “The secretary of state does not believe that any alleged treatment [Nazer] received would constitute persecution.” Nazer faced deportation and feared reprisals from the Sudanese government.

However, in November, after appeals on Nazer’s behalf, the Home Office reversed its decision and announced that it would reconsider her case. “Regrettably, the letter giving the reasons for refusing Ms. Nazer’s claim,” said Immigration Minister Beverly Hughes, “did not deal with some of the issues regarding credibility or the objective country information on Sudan.”