Needs and responses
International responses to the Darfur crisis were muted and dilatory. In 2003 and 2004 there was a reluctance to intervene or even to put serious pressure on the Khartoum government, for fear that it would jeopardise the peace talks with the SPLM/A in Kenya over South Sudan. In the United Nations Security Council, it was clear that China – as Sudan’s main oil partner – and Russia would veto strong sanctions. The use of the term ‘genocide’ by some observers, including the US, was treated with extreme caution.
A United Nations mission reported at the end of January 2005 on crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur, and named responsible Sudan government officials in a confidential appendix. The UN Security Council on 31 March 2005 passed a resolution requiring those suspected of carrying out war crimes in Darfur region to be handed over to the Hague-based International Criminal Court. The court has now opened its investigation and is expected to announce its indictments early in 2006.
On 1 April, 2005, however, the Sudanese authorities vowed to defy the U.N. Security Council resolution. ‘I swear thrice in the name of Almighty Allah that I shall never hand any Sudanese national to a foreign court,’ said President Bashir in a speech to the ruling National Congress.
In the wake of the invasion of Iraq, there was considerable nervousness about perceptions of western military intervention in Darfur, and the task on the ground was delegated to the African Union.
The 7,000 African Union peacekeepers deployed to Darfur have been unable to stem the violence, however, because they do not have enough troops, proper military hardware and means for rapid movement in the region the size of France, Jan Pronk, the UN Special Envoy to Sudan, acknowledged after a meeting in Khartoum with US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick on 10 November 2005. There were even reports that the peacekeepers were running short of ammunition, and that the government was manipulating their access to fuel.
The African Union has repeatedly asked for more money and logistical support from the West for its Darfur operations. The New York-based Refugees International, which provides humanitarian assistance and protection to displaced persons around the world, said donor governments have failed to provide adequate support for the AU, while the Sudanese government places ‘innumerable obstacles in its path.’
- African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) - Press Statement By Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, on the deteriorating security situation in Darfur - Khartoum, 1 October 2005 - http://www.africafocus.org/docs05/sud0510.php
- United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) - http://www.unhcr.org/
- USAID Darfur Emergency, 5 August 2005 - http://www.reliefweb.int/library/documents/2005/usaid-sdn-05aug.pdf
- U.S. Committee for Refugees, World Refugee Survey 2005: Country Updates (includes Sudan), 2005 - http://www.refugees.org/uploadedFiles/Investigate/Publications_&_Archives/WRS_Archives/2005/guinea_sudan.pdf
Refugees in Sudan
According to the US Committee for Refugees and Immgrants in 2005, at the last count Sudan was host to 225,000 refugees, 191,000 of whom originated from Eritrea, 15,000 from Ethiopia, 7,900 from Uganda, and 5,000 from Chad. In 2002, the UNHCR invoked the cessation clause with respect to Eritrean refugees in Sudan, but the Sudanese government allowed for reconsideration of the cases of those who had compelling reasons against repatriation.
Most have been confined to rural areas and agricultural work. In South Sudan in the 1980s large numbers of Ugandan refugees were settled in camps or self-settled among the nationals (Harrell-Bond 1986). Each family was given land and agricultural inputs in an effort to make them self-sufficient. In Eastern Sudan, by contrast, the government and the UNHCR put refugees in wage-earning settlements and expected them to work on the irrigated schemes. The arrangement was perceived as beneficial to both the tenants in the scheme who lacked labour and refugees who constituted a labour reserve. However, Kibreab (1990: 164) has pointed out that the demand for labour in the irrigation schemes was over-estimated.
- United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) http://www.unhcr.org/
- U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, World Refugee Survey 2005: Country Updates, (includes Sudan), 2005 http://www.refugees.org/uploadedFiles/Investigate/Publications_&_Archives/WRS_Archives/2005/guinea_sudan.pdf
Sudanese in exile
Sudanese refugees in neighbouring African countries
The civil war in South Sudan led to over half a million Sudanese fleeing the country altogether. Kakuma in northern Kenya hosts tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees. Over 200,000 are in camps in western and northern Uganda, such as Adjumani. In recent years the latter have been subjected to attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and some have returned to Sudan, despite the dangers, because of this. However, the LRA also operates in southern Sudan.
An estimated 220,000 people have fled from Darfur to camps in a desolate and remote part of Chad lacking in basic essentials such as water. Amid incursions into Chad by the Janjaweed militia in 2003/2004, the UNHCR organised an emergency relocation of refugees from the insecure border area to camps further in the interior. UN agencies and NGOs are the sole providers of aid and infrastructure. Although the majority of refugees from Darfur are in Chad, some have made their way further afield to countries such as Ghana and Egypt.
Sudanese refugees in the West
Before the 1989 coup d’etat by the present government, Sudanese refugees abroad were far fewer in number than they are now. Those who reached western countries before the 1990s were usually a handful of the educated elite. During the 1990s, as numbers grew with the intensification of war and political oppression, the host countries were initially willing to grant asylum to victims of political and human rights abuses. By the end of the decade, however, with antagonism towards asylum-seekers growing in the west, Sudanese refugees found themselves more often refused than accepted.
Oil exports and western policies of ‘constructive engagement’ have helped legitimise the government in Khartoum since 1999, when the first pipeline opened, and this too has altered the treatment of those who have fled the country. Darfur refugees in the UK are being told that Khartoum is a safe destination for them to relocate to, and across Europe Sudanese escaping from forced conscription into the Islamist militia (and involvement in atrocities) have been rejected on the grounds that this is regular military service.
In the USA, most publicity has been given to the ‘Lost Boys’, a group of 3,000 children whose lengthy trek to escape SPLA faction fighting in 1992 attracted media attention. Many of the boys were airlifted to America, where they faced struggles of a different nature (See the late Arthur Howes’ film Benjamin and his Brother, 2002). The ‘Lost Girls’, meanwhile, were kept from the limelight and remained in Kakuma camp in Kenya. (Ishbel Matheson, BBC East Africa, 7 June, 2002)
Sudanese refugees in the Arab world
The response to Sudanese refugees in the Arab world reflects an ambivalent attitude towards Sudanese in general. In Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, refugees from Darfur and South Sudan have complained of high-handed or dismissive treatment by local UNHCR officials, and of being caught in an administrative limbo.
In November 2001, Sudanese in Syria were told by the authorities to obtain residence permits through the Sudanese embassy in Damascus. South Sudanese and others who did not trust the embassy were told to show UN protection or official refugee recognition papers, or be deported to Sudan. Seeking assistance from the UNHCR office in Damascus, over 500 displaced people approached the office on 9 December 2001 and chose a delegation of five to present their case. The mission, fearing attack, called in the Syrian police, who used teargas and made mass arrests. Four people sustained serious injuries and two pregnant women had miscarriages, according to the Sudan Human Rights Organization (Cairo Branch).
The crisis in Egypt was highlighted at the end of December 2005 by the controversial removal of some three thousand Sudanese who had set up a temporary protest camp in Mohandiseen near the Cairo office of the UNHCR at the end of September. The refugees, reportedly fed up with appalling conditions and constant abuse of their rights, had been demanding protection from forced repatriation and of vulnerable groups, as well as relocation abroad.
As early as June 2002, Caroline Moorehead reported: ‘Asylum seekers reaching Cairo face a series of hurdles, involving profound uncertainty, confusion, and some two years' wait, before they can even hope for their first interview. Many are put off from applying at all, preferring to live, and wait, in the slums and shanty towns that encircle the city, so that UNHCR has no record of their existence.’ (Caroline Moorehead, New York Review of Books, 7 November 2002, responding to a letter on her article ‘Lost in Cairo’, NYR, 13 June 2002). In October 2005, students at the Forced Migration and Refugee Studies Programme in Cairo published a report on the protesters, entitled ‘Sudanese refugees in Cairo: “We'll wait here; we'll die here”’.
On 29 December 2005, nearly 4,000 Egyptian riot police moved in with water cannons to enforce the removal of the Sudanese protestors, at least 20 people were reported killed, including a small child. Human Rights Watch said President Husni Mubarak should urgently appoint an independent commission of inquiry. ‘The high loss of life suggests the police acted with extreme brutality,’ it said, calling for an investigation that looked at all levels of the police command, including the role of Interior Minister Habib al-`Adli.
The Egyptian government pointed out that it had tolerated the situation for three months and had acted at the request of the UNHCR. Egypt’s Interior Ministry attributed the fatalities to ‘a stampede,’ and said ‘the migrants’ leaders resorted to incitement and attacks against the police.’ The authorities’ initial warnings that protesters carried dangerous diseases and rumours that some had AIDS were later acknowledged to be unfounded.
- BBC, Twenty Sudanese die in Cairo raid, 30 December 2005 - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/4568340.stm
- Gomez, Alex, et al. ‘Sudanese refugees in Cairo: “We'll wait here; we'll die here"’, Pambazuka News 226, 20 October 2005 - http://www.pambazuka.org/index.php?id=29957
- Human Rights Watch (HRW) - http://www.hrw.org/
- Moorhead, Caroline, ‘Response to a letter from Vincent Cochetel re her article “Lost in Cairo”’, New York Review of Books, Volume 49, Number 17, 7 November 2002 - http://www.nybooks.com/articles/15808
- Sudan Human Rights Organization – Cairo Branch (SHRO – Cairo) http://www.shro-cairo.org
- Sudan Human Rights Organization – Cairo Branch (SHRO – Cairo), An Urgent Appeal to the UNHCR High Commissioner for Refugees to stop the deportation of displaced Southern Sudanese in Syria - http://www.shro-cairo.org/urgentaction/unchr_letter.htm