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When he arrived last year at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York seeking asylum, the 20-year-old Abdelraziq Abdalla Adam had no papers to identify him and spoke an obscure, virtually unknown language. He claimed kinship in a rural, isolated Sudanese farming tribe. His mother tongue was Fur. He was born at home, so he had no birth certificate. He had never been formally schooled, so there were no records tracking his years of growing up. The village where Adam was from had no telephones and no mail service, so it was impossible to verify his story with family or neighbors. A ‘REAL PROBLEM’ When New Jersey lawyers Suzanne Peticolas and Philip Degnan took Adam’s asylum case on a referral from the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in New York, they had no idea they’d be facing such monumental hurdles. “There was no one in this country who knew who he was and he had no paperwork,” said Peticolas. “We realized we had a real problem.” The lawyers sought a Fur translator but couldn’t find a single service in the United States that had even heard of the Fur language. So the attorneys pieced together his story through his limited Arabic skills, which his father had taught him by reading passages of the Quran. Human rights abuses in Sudan are well documented, and persecution by the Arab majority against members of African tribes, such as Adam’s, is well known. Adam told the lawyers at Newark, N.J.’s Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione about the violence that government-supported militia groups had committed in his village. They had killed villagers periodically to terrorize the Fur tribespeople. Several members of Adam’s family, which was outspoken in its opposition to the government, were murdered. Adam feared the violence, and he believed he would soon be conscripted into the army, which would have forced him into involuntary servitude. So he fled to America after an uncle sold his sheep to buy him a fake passport. Peticolas said that proving the story of this Arabic-speaking stranger with no documentation was made even more difficult because of post-Sept. 11 fears. At a certain point, though, the lawyers realized that if they could prove his ethnicity, rather than identity, they could win asylum. “A light bulb went off,” said Peticolas. “It doesn’t matter who he is. It doesn’t matter what his name is. All that matters is that he’s a member of the persecuted group.” The lawyers tracked down Fur-speaking immigrants in Virginia, but the judge rejected their testimony, saying they needed an expert opinion that Adam was a native Fur. An extensive search on the Internet finally turned up one expert — a professor in Germany who had written a grammar book on the Fur language. While the professor, Angelika Jakobi, agreed to help them, the lawyers weren’t sure she could do much from so far away. So they ferreted out two American professors, Thomas Hinnebusch, professor of linguistics and African languages at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Janice Jake, a linguist who had had some field experience in Fur. They helped administer and evaluate the results of the tape-recorded test along with Jakobi. All three agreed that the test showed that Adam was a native speaker. Peticolas said the testimony of the professors was enough to overcome the opposition of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) lawyer and the judge’s suspicions. INS lawyer Joseph Silver did not return calls seeking comment. Adam is now studying English and learning job skills from a charitable organization. Peticolas said she and Degnan hear from him frequently. “When we got an e-mail, I felt kind of like a proud parent,” she said.

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