Deported from Jordan to Egypt, Sudanese refugees are fleeing again

After fleeing the civil war in Sudan to Jordan, where they were again deported to Egypt, the Sudanese community now faces social and economic hardships that push some to risk their lives in the journey to Europe where they believe they will find a better life.

al-monitor Sudanese refugees from Darfur gather during an open-ended sit-in outside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, demanding better treatment and acceleration of their relocation, Amman, Dec. 6, 2015.  Photo by REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed.

Topics covered

unhcr, sudanese refugees, prison, humanitarian assistance, displacement, deportation, darfur, civil war

Mar 8, 2016

For most of their marriage, Ahmed Hendika and Noralsham Mansur have been on the move.

It was 2014 when they were first forced from Sudan, fleeing government threats to find safety in Jordan. They were displaced a second time in December 2015, when Jordanian authorities sent them back to Khartoum in a mass deportation following a protest by Amman’s Sudanese community. Now they are in Cairo, escaping persecution in Sudan a second time. From this sprawling, often hostile city, they are contemplating their next move.

“We feel our life is in danger here. We don’t have any protection from Egypt,” Hendika told Al-Monitor. “Because they deported us from Jordan, we do not have a place to stay, we do not have any work and even [Egyptian] society is not accepting us.”

Hendika and Mansur are two of around 600 Sudanese refugees forcibly returned to Khartoum by Jordanian authorities in December. Around 145 of that group are now thought to be in Cairo. For a month before the mass deportation, Sudanese refugees had demonstrated at the UNHCR offices in Amman against the hardship and hopelessness of life in Jordan. They were deported in violation of the non-refoulement law, which forbids returning people to where they are in danger of persecution; now, they are contemplating an even tougher situation.

“When we reached Khartoum, they took our contacts from us and asked about our families,” Hendika said. “They took us to the intelligence and security places. They hit us and tied our hands and covered our eyes.”

The displacement is just the latest of many frightening disruptions. Mansur was in her final semester at university and was forced to abandon her studies when she fled Sudan. When they were deported from Jordan, the couple was beginning to prepare for the birth of their first child, and Mansur is now four months pregnant with little in the way of access to health care.

“I left everything when I got a chance to go to Jordan,” Hendika said. “Now we are moving all the time, from Sudan, to Jordan, now to Cairo — all the time as refugees … All the time we are thinking that we are not acceptable, that society does not like us,” he said.

“We walk to the grocery store and everyone calls out 'Samra' or 'Chocolate,'” Mansur said, describing the racism faced by the Sudanese in Egypt. “On the buses, they won’t give us a seat.”

In Cairo, the small community that has endured the same journey as Hendika and Mansur help each other with food, emotional support and housing. There is little else to be done. The couple is now staying in a house with around 18 other people, dependent on the hospitality of their acquaintances. Men, women and families are living together, and conditions are cramped and stressful.

Mada, who did not reveal her full name and who traveled to Cairo with her three daughters, said the girls are uncomfortable living with so many people; they haven’t been able to go to school since they were deported from Jordan in December. “They are tired, I am tired,” she said. “Walking through the streets is frightening; the children are afraid to go outside.”

Last month, the group presented the UNHCR in Cairo with papers issued in Amman that proved their status as protected persons. It is unclear whether these will be useful now, so Hendika and Mansur will wait for 2½ months to register as asylum seekers — despite the fact that they had completed the process and are registered as refugees in Amman.

UNHCR representatives could not be reached for comment on the issue. Ahmed Badawy, a lawyer working with Sudanese refugees in Cairo, told Al-Monitor that the process of linking the files in Amman could take months — time in which the newly arrived Sudanese do not have the necessary papers to access services and support. “We find that one of the most important issues is that refugees are trying to get information about their file, and this is difficult,” Badawy said. “The other problem is resettlement. We have a lot of people who have blue cards, who have been here for 10 or 12 years.”

In Cairo, those granted official refugee status and who thus qualify for resettlement consideration are given blue cards, while asylum seekers have yellow cards.

For Ali, it is a frustrating situation. After deportation he reported suffering torture and harsh interrogation at the hands of the Sudanese government during a three-week imprisonment. After being released he hid, then paid smugglers to take him across the border to Egypt from Sudan — a risky and illegal journey. Now, his status in Cairo is illegal. He cannot work, continues to fear the eyes and power of the Sudanese authorities and finds he is trapped by his ambiguous status in the city.

“Here in Cairo, if you don’t have a blue card or a yellow card you can’t go anywhere. If they catch you without the card they can send you [back] to Sudan. So everyone is just staying in their homes,” he told Al-Monitor.

Like most of the Sudanese deported from Jordan, Ali, whose full name has been withheld for security reasons, is Darfuri. The group has suffered a mass killing by government forces in Sudan’s civil war, which many international observers have deemed a genocide. Despite an International Criminal Court arrest warrant on Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, however, Sudan and Egypt enjoy friendly ties.

After being displaced from what they thought was a safe haven, the Sudanese community’s faith in the authorities has been destroyed and many regard Arab governments as a threat. “Egypt is close to Sudan. I don’t trust these countries. All the Sudanese are feeling this,” Ali said.

For many weeks after his arrival in Cairo, he was afraid to communicate with the UNHCR. As a single young man, he is now more likely to take matters into his own hands, and several of his close friends have already traveled to Libya to attempt to cross the sea to Europe. The crossing is expensive and dangerous, but Ali sees few other possibilities.

Hendika and Mansur also want to leave Egypt, where they see few options for the future of their child. But with a baby on the way, their options are limited.

“I am waiting to solve my problem, to go to the countries receiving refugees — they will treat you as one of their citizens, you get the card to study, the card to work,” Hendika said. “This is what we want, to interact with the citizens in society. We want peace, security, stability,” he concluded.

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