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Sudanese man who walked through Channel Tunnel granted UK asylum

Tunnel owners say they are 'disappointed' that Abdel Rahman Haroun, who fled government aggression, has been given refugee status
Trains travel through the 50-kilometre tunnel at up to 160 kilometres per hour (AFP)

A man imprisoned after walking the length of the Channel Tunnel to seek asylum in the UK has been granted refugee status.

Abdel Rahman Haroun, a Sudanese national from Darfur, was arrested in August after he walked the entire 50-kilometre length of the underwater Channel Tunnel that separates the UK from mainland Europe.

The walk took about 11 hours, during which Haroun, who is 40 and fled Sudan after government forces attacked his village, dodged trains travelling at up to 160 kilometres per hour.

On arriving at the tunnel's UK entrance in Folkestone, Haroun was arrested and charged under the obscure Malicious Damage Act of 1861, originally drafted to prosecute workers who attempted to sabotage new factory machinery in protest at changes to working conditions.

The legislation is now little used, but was employed several times last year to charge people who attempt to enter the UK via the tunnel.

During a hearing on Monday to address these charges, Haroun was released on bail when the judge at Canterbury Crown Court learned that he had been granted asylum on 24 December.

Haroun was released from HMP Elmley, a low-security prison in Kent, to a safe house in the area, and will be supported by a local refugee charity.

The hearing was postponed until 18 January, and prosecutors are weighing up whether to follow up the charges.

Eurotunnel, which operates the tunnel Haroun walked through, said it was “disappointed” with the latest developments in his case.

“Eurotunnel is disappointed that the court has decided to postpone the prosecution of Mr Haroun now that he has been granted asylum in the United Kingdom,” a company spokesperson told The Telegraph newspaper on Monday.

“This decision will only act as an encouragement to other migrants to seek to gain illegal entry to the UK.”

Colin Yeo, a leading UK immigration lawyer, has previously suggested that prosecuting asylum seekers for using illegal methods to enter a country could contravene international law regarding state protection.

“The prosecution of [Haroun] for an obscure 19th century railways offence is inappropriate and wrong,” Yeo wrote when Haroun’s arrest was first reported last summer, citing the 1951 UN Refugee Convention that protects refugees from prosecution for illegally entering a country.

“Like all refugees, he should be immune from prosecution for irregular means of entry to a country of sanctuary.”