Sudanese refugee who walked lenght of Channel tunnel faces trial

  Sudanese asylum seeker Abdul Haroun leaves the Crown Court in Canterbury, 21 January. Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

 Sudanese asylum seeker Abdul Haroun leaves the Crown Court in Canterbury, 21 January. Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

Sudanese refugee who walked length of Channel tunnel faces trial

A Sudanese man who walked through the Channel tunnel from France in an extreme example of the desperate measures refugees are prepared to take to reach Britain is to face trial under an obscure law for obstructing a railway.

Abdul Haroun, from Darfur, walked for close to 12 hours in near total darkness in August, evading high-speed trains and security cameras, before being arrested by British police close to the end of the tunnel at Folkestone. 

He was charged and sent to prison, where he remained until he was given bail on 4 January.

In December he was granted asylum by British authorities - a decision his supporters hoped would lead to the charge being dropped.Tunnel operator Eurotunnel and some MPs criticised the decision, saying it would encourage other migrants to risk the trip. 

Thousands of migrants are camped out near the northern French ports of Calais and Dunkirk, seeking clandestine ways to enter Britain such as stowing away on trucks or trains.

Haroun was the first person known to have made it through the 31-mile tunnel on foot. Since then, two Iranian men have also walked through the tunnel. They too were arrested and charged with the same offence and are due to stand trial in April. 

The Calais and Dunkirk camps are among many flashpoints in a continent-wide crisis that saw more than a million refugees and migrants enter Europe last year, most to escape war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

In Britain, Haroun’s case has framed a heated political debate over whether refugees should be welcomed or stopped from coming.

The issue will feature heavily in campaigning for a referendum on whether Britain should stay in the European Union, expected to take place later this year. 

Since being freed on bail, Haroun has been living with a volunteer from a charity that has supported him through his detention, prosecution and asylum application. 

He attended Thursday’s hearing at a court in Canterbury accompanied by supporters, speaking only to confirm his name.

The offence with which he is charged carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison. Judge Adele Williams provisionally set Haroun’s trial for 20 June and extended his bail.

About a dozen refugee rights campaigners staged a protest outside the courthouse, holding up banners in support of Haroun.