Presented to: IDRC
By: Gamal Abdelrahman Adam November 20, 2004
1. PROJECT CONCLUSION:
Young Sudanese men and women in Cairo are suffering because most of them do not have regular jobs, and many of them are not recognized by UNHCR as refugees. Even those who have refugee status have no material support from the international organization if they are not elderly people or have children. As a result of this situation they resort to resource pooling to survive. Family and friendship networks are very important for the survival of refugees in Egypt and even for their resettlement abroad (to Australia in particular). Despite the efforts which the refugees make to survive, the scarcity of resources available to them has led to family breakups, to alcoholism, to addition to drugs and to the formation of gangs especially among the people who are aged between 16 and 20 years. However, of 105 respondents who have been individually interviewed there is only one person who is addicted to drugs meaning that the other 104 are still resilient.
One policy recommendation flowing from my research is that the only way of reducing their problems and utilizing their energy and talents is to settle them in one or two camps outside Cairo since there is little hope for integration of Sudanese refugees in Egypt into Egyptian workforce. A total of 83 respondents out of 105 suggested this option. If refugees have temporarily settled in one or two particular areas outside Cairo that will encourage the organizations that are willing to help refugees to step in and will facilitate the task of these that are already helping. The idea of gathering refugees in particular areas will provide a chance for basket weaving, table cloth and bed-sheet decorating activities which Sudanese female refugees practice to grow into lucrative exporting businesses. Many individuals will again get job opportunities locally (e.g. teaching, medical treatment, carpentry, etc.).
Also gathering refugees in temporary settlements in outskirts of Cairo would have changed the system of UNHCR from refugees visiting the office individually to the employees of the office visiting refugees as groups in their settlement. That would have helped the representatives of UNHCR and other organizations that are concerned with refugee issues to get more precise picture of Sudanese refugees in Cairo in stead of basing their decision on the written cases that the refugees submit individually. Gathering of refugees in a camp is particularly important because in Egypt until the summer of 2004 children of foreign fathers and Egyptian mothers were considered foreigners even if they were born and grew up in Egypt let along talking about refugees’ integration.
My research has uncovered that in Egypt it is not only young male refugees among the few lucky Sudanese that are recognized by UNHCR that have been excluded from the support of international organization (UNHCR) but everybody who is not an elderly person and has no children is allowed to struggle alone in a country where foreigners are not allowed to work whether they are refugees or otherwise. Therefore, young female refugees are also excluded from the little money which the UNHCR pays to the few recognized refugees who have children or who are elderly people.
The proposal suggested for significance that the research will contribute to the studies about young male refugees in urban Africa and the Middle East where the most obvious available contribution has only been Marc Sommers’s (2001) research on young male Burundian refugees in urban Tanzania where he has studied the concept of fear among them. During the interviews I realized refugee children need special research because their parents and relatives mentioned that their children were often locked up in the apartments for long hours because the parents were working. The parents locked them up because they cared for them and they did not want them to be injured or exposed to any danger while they are out playing, going to or coming from school. The schools are based in the compounds of the churches that are located in downtown whereas most of the refugees live in slums that are located in the ends of the city. However, in most cases parents who are not recognized by UNHCR their children are not allowed to be enrolled in church schools. Many respondents also complained that the education offered in some churches is very poor. Moreover, most parents often do not have the money to pay for their children’s transportation and the needs for survival at the same time.
Specifically, I recommend that future research on Sudanese refugees in Cairo be focused on the children who spend most of the weekdays alone in the apartments and on the teenagers about who the respondents argued to be addicted to drugs and to be members of gangs that threaten people in the streets and rob them.
I believe that my fieldwork about young Sudanese male refugees in Cairo will also make a significant contribution to the IDRC policy of development because it describes and analyzes the dilemma of urban refugees in Middle Eastern and North African countries where authorities do not provide any access to refugees for integration.
2. GENERAL FIELD ACTIVITIES:
The main purpose of my research was to investigate four main questions about young male refugees between the ages of 18 and 39 from riverain Central Sudan and Southern Sudan in Cairo:
1) The problems of their adjustment and adaptation; whether these problems differ according to young men refugees’ ethnic, regional religious and cultural backgrounds and; whether they are another case of “Sudanese lost boys”.
2) How do processes of adjustment and adaptation such as housing, work, legal status (i.e. recognized or unrecognized as refugees), education and vocational training, the level of their interaction with Egyptians and other non-Sudanese are affected by the social construction of Sudanese and Sudanese nationalism as against Egyptian social construction and Egyptian nationalism when Sudanese continued to be ‘significant Others’ (Anderson 1991; Gellner 1983; Hobsbawm 1992)?
3) If the types of networks (Barnes 1969a, 1972; Mitchell, 1974; Wasserman and Faust 1994; Wasserman and Galaskiewiecz 1994) young Sudanese establish in Egypt constitute Sudanese national identity in exile as the anthropological literature in other areas has suggested it (Fortier 2000; Gupta and Ferguson 1997; Hall 1990).
4) Has the young men’s marginal status in Egypt affected the cultural roles that men in Sudanese society generally perform and their sense of masculinity?
2a. FIELDWORK AND METHODS: A BRIEVE OVERVIEW:
I was in Cairo for almost ten months (mid August 2003 to early July 2004) during which time I conducted field studies with Sudanese refugees in Cairo (for my PhD dissertation). I interviewed 105 individuals and held 15 focus group discussions.
The methods that have been used to collect the data are individual interviews, focus group discussions and participant observation. I started each interview and focus group with one general question which is: “Based on what you have experienced and on what you have seen, heard and felt from other people what are the main problems which the young male Sudanese refugees face in Egypt?” Then the discussions branched out from this question to issues related to the above-mentioned topics. The average time was 50 minutes for individual interviews and 60 minutes for focus groups. The equipment that has been utilized in research activities includes two tape recorders and a camera in addition to notebooks. The snowball system was the most effective strategy of data collection; and therefore, most of the interviews and focus groups were successful because the participants knew me through their friends, relatives and neighbors. In addition to friends and relatives, I used the name of a cousin and friend, Omar Abdelrahman Adam, (whose whereabouts I do not know since May 2003) who was very popular in the Sudanese refugee community- especially among the Southern Sudanese.
These field activities were preceded by library research that I conducted for five weeks focusing mainly on Sudanese refugees in Egypt. I am very grateful to Professor Barbara Harrell- Bond, distinguished visiting Professor at the American University in Cairo, who generously opened her library doors to me. I studied in her library almost every Wednesday and Thursday in August and September 2003. I also benefited from weekly seminars which the Forced Migration and Refugee Studies Program organized (between fall 2003 and spring 2004) on issues related to refugee problems in different parts of the world and I am thankful to Professor Nicholas Hopkins, Dean of Social Sciences and Humanities, for affiliating me to Forced Migration and Refugee Studies Program. I also express my deep thanks to my supervising committee- particularly to Professors Daniel Yon and Peter Harries-Jones for their continuous advice during the all phases of the field research.
The remaining 14 focus group discussions and 93 individual interviews were conducted between early December 2003 and early May 2004. Before I started focus group research I was thinking of organizing six to seven focus groups for refugees from Southern Sudan and the similar number for refugees from riverain Northern Sudan but that idea became difficult because in many cases conditions in Egypt forced Sudanese from different ethnic and regional backgrounds to live together or to visit each other frequently for socialization. Several times I was in the middle of interviews when visitors interrupted and asked to be included. Consequently, only nine focus groups included people from the same regional backgrounds and three of these (focus groups 6, 8 and 11) were exclusively Denka (one of which included a Joor woman). In Focus Group 8 whose participants were three men from Denka of Bahr-Al- Gazal and a woman from the Denka of Bor, the discussion was largely centralized on four issues- that is to say, implications of their status in Egypt. All of them came to Cairo in 1999 and their files were closed at UNHCR.
I completed the principal fieldwork two months ahead of time (mid June 2004) and conducted additional research for one and a half month uniquely about Darfur since there were many people coming from Darfur to Egypt every week and most of them were victims of the atrocities in the region. Therefore, I interviewed them about what they experienced during the attacks on their villages and towns. I also traveled to Eritrea where I spend over a month conducting further interviews with Darfurians in Eritrea.
However, the reason that delayed me to submit this report is that two of my bags returned to Egypt from the airport and all the receipts including the used flight tickets were in one of the two bags.
2b. LIMITATIONS OF RESEARCH ACTIVITY:
Though I followed the snowballing method, it was extremely difficult to interview people whom I met in the places which the refugees frequent. Of over 70 people, whom I met in places such as Caritas, Sacred Heart Church and Sudanese Organization against Torture and exchanged contact numbers with them, only five were interviewed. Each one of the others agreed and absented on the day of interview. I was stuck for almost three weeks until the people whose names I mentioned at the end of this report helped me with their friends and relatives and then the circle of interviews started to widen gradually until there were cases when people called me to interview them and I did not know who gave them my telephone.
Places such as UNHCR, Caritas, St. Andrews, Sacred Heart Church (known among the Sudanese as Sackakeeni), All Saints Cathedral, Sudanese Organization Against Torture (SOAT) and Aya Cafeteria are among the most frequented by Sudanese refugees in Cairo. I visited them successively during the first three months, met individuals and we talked for several hours. I exchanged addresses with many of them and few of them later became my key informants and/or participants. The conversations at this stage were general rather than specified topics. I asked them about the life of Sudanese in Egypt and they asked me about the life in Canada, USA, Australia and Finland which are known as the most popular resettlement countries among the Sudanese refugees in Egypt. Most of their questions were focused on processes of adjustment, adaptation and integration, such as work and education of refugees and immigrants in these countries.
I answered them in some detail about the experiences of Sudanese refugees in Canada but on questions about the life of Sudanese in other resettlement countries, I told them that I do not want to mislead them because I did not live in these countries. I realized that they knew more about the life of Sudanese that have been resettled in Australia, Finland and US than I did because they investigated integration and resettlement processes in these countries utilizing the presence of their relatives and friends. Therefore, many of them were only asking to see if what I said corresponded to what they already knew about the integration of Sudanese refugees there.
Sometimes we talked standing for several hours because some places which they frequent do not have benches, sofas or chairs. For example, Caritas (UNHCR implementing partner in Egypt) has only seven sofas in a veranda designated for 40 people. I have been to Caritas four times and each time there were over 100 refugees in its compound, the bulk of them were standing. Some of them recounted that they usually waited for three, four and five hours before they were served (compensated for medical spending or to receive the first and probably the only payment of about 50 US dollars which non-elderly refugees without children are entitled to, or to see doctor). Refugees often spend more than five hours in the compound of Caritas before they are served. They do not go out to look for something to eat or drink partly because Caritas is located in an area where there are no cafeterias close by and refugees who go there are afraid that their names might be called out while they are away.
Many refugees used to stay hungry and thirsty for several hours. Again the access to washrooms is only available to those who get inside the building but those who wait outside have to hold everything until the time comes when they enter into the building. Until recently at St Andrews chairs were only available in the class rooms. Sacred Heart Church opens its doors to the public (those who do not work there) only twice a week and consequently young men stand chatting in front of the compound of the Church for long hours (often from six to ten pm) in the evenings. All Saints Cathedral has chairs available to the people who go there.
With regard to the problems of work and housing and the discrimination of Egyptians against dark skinned Sudanese, they said that they have to avoid any conflict with Egyptians because the authorities will put them in prison even if they are victims, because they do not have valid residence visas and therefore their residence in Egypt is illegal. Their discussion on work concluded that Sudanese work long hours for very little money and those who have children whom they leave at home are not allowed to call and check if their children are doing fine. With regard to housing they emphasized that old and poorly furnished apartments are usually rented out to Sudanese for which they pay more than double what Egyptian pay, and landlords reserve to themselves the right of questioning the tenants about the individuals who enter or come out from the apartments. Some of them (landlords) do not accept that tenant’s children play in the apartment (if the latter live upstairs and the landlord downstairs), and others often evict the tenants without giving them enough time to find other apartments. For example, the landlord gave a week’s notice to the tenant of the apartment in which we held Focus Group8 (FG8). And when I asked the tenant about the reason that the landlord wanted her out of the apartment, she replied that he argued that the sound of her children’s feet disturbed him down stairs. “But I do not see any child of the age who can play in the apartment?” I said. “I sent them to their father in Ainshams?” she replied. “You are divorced or separated?” I asked. “Divorced,” she replied. Like in other Sudanese refugee communities in Cairo, separation and divorce are a common phenomenon even among the Denka and the Nuer communities where divorce was very rare in their home communities in Sudan.
The young men who stand in front of Sacred Heart Church are mostly dressed like young male African- Americans or African- Canadians (large pants worn on the hip to amass on the shoes, large T-shirts, bandanas and sport shoes). They dress as if they are in a hockey arena and move their fingers and hands similar to most African-North Americans while talking. Occasionally young women dressed in tied pants or short skirts came and went away with some of the young men. This means that some of the young men go to Sacred Heart Church to alleviate the pressure of work, others to get rid of the monotony of staying at home and others go there to meet their girl friends.
I observed that the young people who spend time in front of Sacred Heart Church speak Arabic with little or no accent which means that they grew up in Khartoum or in Egypt and most of them had pre-university schooling. However, among over 50 individuals with whom I conversed and exchanged the addresses at Sacred Heart Church only four honored me with interviews either with others in focus groups or individually. Therefore, until the end of November 2003 I interviewed only 12 individuals (two Kuku from Juba (Southern Sudan), one Shaigui from Northern Sudan, one Ja’ali from Madani (Central Sudan), one Mahasi from Umdurman (Khartoum), one Kawahla from Kordofan and six Fur (thee from Khartoum, two from Central Sudan and one from Darfur) and held a focus group discussion of three people (one Fur from Omdurman (Khartoum), one Borno from Khartoum and one Ta’aishi-Nuba from Juba). Two of these were Christians and others were Muslims. At this stage the research included only one female respondent whom I interviewed together with her husband. I attended two wedding parties and farewell prayers for a Kuku community leader who traveled to Australia.
3. EVALUATION OF THE FIELD EVIDENCE IN RELATION TO THE RESEARCH PROPOSAL AND LITERATURE:
The literature review has suggested that, in western countries, the adjustment, adaptation and integration of refugees and immigrants are directly affected by the legal status the authorities of the host countries assigned for them as well as the way they are perceived by the majority of the population in the host countries (Avery 1995; McGown 1999; Triandafyllidou 2001). It also concluded that in the Middle East and North Africa, with the exception of Palestinians that are in the countries covered by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) mandate, refugees are largely excluded from programs designed to help urban poor (i.e. housing, healthcare) (Harrell-Bond el al. 2002).
My field research has stronger conclusions. It concludes that the integration of Sudanese refugees in Egyptian society, including those who are Arabs or Nubians, currently is impossible for three reasons:
1) Refugees are not allowed to take regular employment in Egypt and therefore there is no room for any integration of refugees in the regular work force despite the fact that Sudanese refugees in Egypt are flexible to accept menial jobs (Belail 1998) a point which concurs with the evidence from my interviews and focus group discussions.
2) Sudanese are highly visible and are exposed to discrimination by both authorities and ordinary people because of their darker skin color.
3) Egypt does not provide citizenship status to foreigners.
The literature has suggested that the integration of Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees in Sudan would be possible if the economic capacity of the urban areas where they lived was increased since that would lead to their employment (Kibreab 1994: 59). My specific conclusion from the literature is that it suggested the possibility of partial integration of riverain Northern Sudanese Arabs and Nubians (Fabos 1999). The literature also argued that the only Sudanese whose integration was difficult in Egypt were Southern Sudanese because they are much darker and are Christian (Coker 2001; Digges 1999; Fabos 1999; Ghazaleh 2002; Moro 2002). In particular, Ghazaleh (2002) has explained the difficulties young Southern Sudanese are facing in renting apartments and finding jobs.
My research indicates that there are much wider problems of integration. The 105 persons whom I individually interviewed and 74 individuals who participated in focus group discussions all stated that Sudanese refugees in Cairo are discriminated against by Egyptians regardless of their ethnic, religious or regional backgrounds. Moreover, the historical relationships between Sudan and Egypt often results in Egyptians showing their disdain for Sudanese to the extent that in many cases Sudanese pretend to be citizens of other African countries when they interact with Egyptians in the street, in the market, in the bus or in the train.
My research has further discovered that the treatment of Egyptians to Sudanese as inferior Others has created in Sudanese refugees a shared feeling to the extent that when an Egyptian is arguing with a Sudanese on something any Sudanese who sees them intervenes immediately and supports the Sudanese whereas Egyptians side with their fellow citizens. With regard to Sudanese refugees in Egypt, the existing literature has mainly focused on the construction of Northern Sudanese or Southern Sudanese ethnic identities as a result of their interaction with Egyptians (Akuei 2001; Coker 2001; Fabos 1999) and has concluded that Sudanese refugees in Cairo were living as members of unconnected ethnic collectivities whose interaction with Egyptians raised more ethnic or regional feelings in them as Denka, riverain Northern Sudanese Arabs, Southern Sudanese, etc. However, my research uncovers that there is the feeling of being Sudanese that connect the refugee ethnic collectivities together. For example, the first wedding party to which I was invited included Darfurians and riverain Northern Sudanese Arabs and Nubians; and the second party included Darfurians, Nuba and Arabs from Central Sudan.
Two important aspects resulting from this situation which I have discovered during my fieldwork with Sudanese refugees in Egypt are:
1) Refugees have adopted the culture of resource share in a country whose rules do not allow them to work. Refugees who have a day’s meal share it with relatives and friends who do not have. Many of these friends are members of different ethnic groups.
2) The fear and suspicion of Egyptians made Sudanese refugees intensify the inward cultural interaction which helps the formation of “the culture of” Sudanese nationalism in exile.
The culture of Sudanese nationalism is conceivable in the places such as Caritas and UNHCR office where refugees often wait to be served and in farewell parties. During the long hours of waiting at Caritas and UNHCR office refugees often argue that Egyptian employees are deliberately delaying the services as part of the Egyptian and Sudanese governments’ collusion against Sudanese refugees in Cairo. One of such instances was when three (two Egyptians and one Canadian) UNHRC employees met with Southern Sudanese community leaders at Sacred Heart Church in May 2004. During the meeting four community representatives did not want any of the two Egyptians to speak in Arabic or English until I intervened and explained to them that they can allow them to speak and one of the community leaders can translate to the others what has been said in English and can translate to the Canadian what has been said in Arabic so that the latter would follow what his Egyptian colleagues said. This feeling of injustice sometimes develops into demonstrations and consequently into confrontations with Egyptian authorities. The latest demonstration of Sudanese refugees took place in August 2004 when about 500 refugees demonstrated in front of the UNHCR office and the confrontation between them and Egyptian police resulted into the arrest and detention of 30 people (Nkrumah 2004). Further, the speeches which refugees deliver during farewell parties also reflect the culture nationalism. They often remind those who are traveling not to forget Sudan and that they have to come back and contribute to its development.
The literature has argued that Southern Sudanese in Cairo are worried about not only losing their traditions and cultural identity, but also their bodies since they are unable to establish themselves as legal outsiders (Cocker 2001). These who are not recognized as refugees among them assume that they will be harmed any time since they do not have a legal status that will protect them.
Six women from Southern Sudan who have children aged five years or more, in my research, their children did not speak their language, but two of them said that their children understood what they were telling them in their mother tongue. Also I went 14 times to Sacred Heart Church where young men mostly from Southern meet in the evenings and observed them conversing with each other but more than 90% of their conversation was in Arabic. However, the fear of “losing one’s body” (e.g. being killed, losing kidney) because of the unrecognized legal status was more dominant than the fear of losing traditions and cultural identity during the interviews as the sections on legal status and health reveal in this report. My argument at this point is that the fear of losing oneself has made Sudanese focus on inward communication than outward which has led to the formation “of culture” of Sudanese nationalism in exile. Theoreticians of nationalism (Gellner 1983; Hobsbawm 1992) have established that the state or politicians create national culture through education or invention of certain traditions but my research uncovers that the culture of nationalism has developed among Sudanese refugees in Cairo as a reaction of Egyptian government’s refugee policy, UNHCR’s refugee status determination procedures and the manner the refugees are served at the Caritas.
As mentioned above, Egypt does not provide citizenship status to foreigners. The literature review suggested that church organizations provided supported to Sudanese refugees regardless of their religious, ethnic or regional backgrounds (Belail 1998), but 31 respondents, including people who work with church based organizations, strongly argue that most of the church organizations, that claim helping refugees, discriminate against Muslim refugees. For example, three refugees mentioned that the teaching staff at Sacred Heart Church does not include a Muslim and the Coptic Church pays its 40 Egyptian pounds per month to those refugees who show up for prayers throughout the month. Moreover, members of FG7 (see below) who were all Christians argued that the Sacred Heart Church’s school programs for children only include those children whose parents are recognized as refugees by UNHCR.
My research has uncovered that Islamic organizations have no role in helping the refugees despite the fact that Islam urges Muslims to feed and provide shelter to the needy including refugees and immigrants. Only one person in individual interviews and four people in a focus group mention that there is an Islamic (Organization of Islamic Call) organization that provides some support to refugees in Arba’a wa Nus.
The literature further claims that there were international NGOs other than churches which provided assistance to refugees via UNHCR (Ismail 2002), but interviews and focus groups proved that the assistance of the UNHCR to recognized refugees is in rapid decline. The single recognized refugees who used to receive about 200 Egyptian pounds per month in late 1990s now receive that amount only once and wait until they are resettled. However, the unlucky ones, who are settled in Egypt, have to struggle on their own until the Sudanese problem will be solved one day and they will go back or until relatives or friends send them forms for resettlement to countries like Australia.
4. FOCUS GROUPS FINDINGS:
An important question which the refugees frequently asked me is: “Why those of you who have been resettled in Canada not send forms of sponsorship like those in Australia?” And when I answered that Canada allows individuals to sponsor only some categories of their family members (i.e. spouse, parents, children and/or siblings under 18 years of age), some of them contended that they knew individuals who sent forms to people who were not their family members and were successfully resettled in Canada. I responded that happens with the help of few organizations which prioritize individuals who would like to sponsor non-family class refugees must agree to live in particular provinces of Canada. Also many of them brought in addresses of some immigration offices based in Canada which claimed that they assist people to immigrate to Canada. Some refugees spent up to $200 from their little money for application fees and service charges, but their contacts with these agencies ended unsuccessfully.
As to the answers to my questions about the life of Sudanese in Egypt, they described it as full of delays, injustice and sufferance. Many of them complained that they and/or their relatives or their friends had waited longtime (three years in some cases) before their status was determined and after that long wait the results were mostly negative (file closed or appeal). They also complained that there is inconsistency in the process of refugee status determination. People from the same areas (some of them family members) and experienced same problems in Sudan some of them were recognized as refugees and other were not. They also complained about local settlement in Egypt that there is no difference between being settled in Egypt and being denied refugee status because being settled in Egypt brings no change to their life (no work, no education, high rent, no way of becoming Egyptian citizen one day, etc.). The word unsuria, “discrimination”, was also very frequent in their conversation. They mentioned that some Egyptians often utter words such as samara, bunga bunga, and shokolata reminding them that they are black and different. They again complained that there were campaigns of arrest and imprisonment that targeted sub-Saharan African population in Egypt of which many Sudanese were victims. One such campaign took place in the last week of January 2003 in Ma’adi (southern part of Cairo) during which 200 black people were seized from their apartments, in the street and in the market, incarcerated for several days and released after having paid some money (Apiku 2003; Ashton 2003). They said that several people detained were UNHCR card holders, precisely 75% (Ashton 2003), and that they were treated no differently from those whose files were closed. These claims of refugees were confirmed by Apiku and Ashton who wrote about the arrest and detention of Sub-Saharan Africans in Egypt. Apiku (2003) interviewed Lagu, a male refugee, who responded that he was on his way home from Mugamma’a (passport control department) when he was caught by two policemen who never asked him about his papers and did not care when he told them that he was a refugee with valid papers. His wife was arrested on the way to the African School of Hope to bring their child home (Apiku 2003). When I asked why the authorities did not respect the UNHCR blue card (which the recognized refugees carry) some of them replied that the international organization does not function well because it has been influenced by Egyptian government. They assumed Egyptian government is benefiting from the difficult conditions which are inflicted on most of Sudanese in Egypt. Some refugees further mentioned that they pay more than double of what Egyptians pay for rent and that in most cases landlords do not pay them back the taameen (money paid for insurance of furniture) and those who quit their jobs are not paid for the days they worked. In sum, some refugees described their life in Egypt as an open prison and others described it as “travel in a long tunnel” whose end is unknown to them.
In order to tackle issues of adjustment, adaptation and integration of young Sudanese male refugees in Egypt and relationship of their livelihood strategies to the construction of Sudanese national identity in exile, I asked questions such as, where do you get the money to pay the rent, buy the food, and pay for transportation were raised? The questions also focused on why the respondents choose to live in particular parts of the city, how they select roommates, places where they work, their status in Egypt and the treatment of Egyptians authorities and Egyptian people in general to them, if they receive vocational training, their relationship with UNHCR and other organizations that claim helping refugees, their relationship with Sudanese from other ethnic, regional, religious and cultural backgrounds, how they solve their sexual needs, what they think about Sudanese refugees from the opposite sex and how they solve the problems which they mention. Answers to these questions not only provide a picture about Sudanese refugees’ adjustment and adaptation but further uncover that with the exception of one, TT, 21 years old young man from Omdurman, who could not sustain the difficult life which Sudanese in Egypt are experiencing, and went back to Sudan, all the 104 individuals whom I interviewed and 74 persons who have participated in focus group discussions are still “resilient”. In addition to resource pooling to survive, refugees whose files are closed at the UNHCR or are recognized but are settled in Egypt kept sending appeals, contact friends and relatives in countries like Australia to send them sponsorship forms and apply for English and computer courses at the church-based or Sudanese organizations which offer them for free.
Although my original proposal suggested that both focus group discussions and individual interviews be limited only to people from riverain Northern Sudan and Southern Sudan, most of the focus groups included individuals from the other parts of the country because they lived with people from the areas proposed in the proposal or visited them during the interviews.
One focus group was attended by members of Justice and Peace Committee whom I requested to organize a meeting with me in order to discuss with them problems of young people in Egypt- young men in particular. The Justice and Peace Committee plays the role of traditional courts in Sudan. It uses the custom and tradition to settle the problems between individuals within and between Southern Sudanese communities. I asked the participants in this focus group if their committee helps individuals whose relatives are killed by Egyptians to be legally compensated (receive blood price) for the loss of their relatives or if it takes any actions against Egyptian employers who refuse to pay members of their communities for the work they have done. Three of them replied that Justice and Peace Committee members avoid any contacts with Egyptian authorities since they stay illegally in Egypt. Two of them added that in such cases they inform the authorities of Sacred Heart Church to take action, but they often do not succeed. Therefore, Sacred Heart Church’s authorities help with the burial of community members in Egypt or in some cases with transporting the body back to Sudan.
Members of this group included three Denka, two Fujulu, two Joor and one Balanda. They included one woman and seven men. The woman and five among the men were aged between 43 and 50 years and the other two men were 33 and 27 years old. This focus group was particularly forceful in its response to the questions about adjustment and adaptation of Sudanese in Egypt. It becomes difficult for three reasons: 1) their visas expired and their residence in Egypt has become illegal; 2) lack of work and; 3) hostility of Egyptians to Sudanese. One of the participants stated that Egypt is the most difficult country in the whole region in terms of work opportunities. Another participant explains:
Life here is based on struggle and fight. Sudanese are also struggling very hard but the problem is that when struggle leads to quarrel or fight between a Sudanese an Egyptian, other 50 Egyptians will join in and side with the Egyptian. This happened to many of us not only at the work place but also in the residential areas where we live. All Egyptians are coming to fight their Sudanese neighbor, it is very strange. How can you adapt to such an environment? The church which we say that helps us, it provides help only to those who are recognized as refugees by UNHCR and have children. This is the situation in which we are caught.
The total number of the people who contributed to the focus groups is 74 and the largest number of participants in a focus group was nine and the smallest number was three. The following table explains the dates, numbers and places of focus groups.
Focus Group Number Date Number of Participants Place of Interview Comments
1 29/11/2003 3 Misr Aljadeeda All men (Fur, Nuba & Ta’aishi)
2 21/12/2003 7 Ainshams All men (Berti, 3 Fur, Jawama’a, Nuba & Hawwara)
3 22/12 9 Ard Al-Liwa All men (Jamu’i, 2 Ja’ali, 2Nuba, Suleihab, Zandi, Bideiri & Misseiri)
4 31/12/2003 3 Ainshams All men (2 Meema & Nuba)
5 2/1/2004 4 Arba’a wa Nus All men (Ta’aishi, Ja’ali, Halfawi & Fallati)
6 9/1/2004 3 Misr Aljadeeda All Denka (2 women & man)
7 9/1/2004 5 Ainshams 3 women and 2 men (Denka, Dugulawi, Zandi, Frateet & Tama)
8 10/2004 6 Hadaig Alzeitoon 2 women and 5 men (6 Denka & Juur)
9 16/1/2004 3 Arba’a wa Nus All men (Dungulawi, Ingriabi & Bideiri)
10 22/1/2004 4 Faisal All men (Zayadi, Hausa, Ja’ali & Lahwi)
11 30/1/2004 4 Deer Almalak All Denka (woman & 3 men)
12 16/2/2004 8 Sakakeeni (‘Abbasia) All S. Sudanese (woman & 7 men)
13 28/2/2004 3 Roxy All men (2 Shaigui & Nuba)
14 2/3/2004 4 Raba’a All men (Dungulawi, Jawama’a & Kinani)
15 7/5/2004 8 Ma’adi 3 women and 5 men (3 Avokaya, Muru, Tobosa, Fujulu, Kakua & Zandi)
Similar topics were raised in individual interviews in a more detailed manner.
All the focus group discussions suggest that adjustment and adaptation processes of Sudanese refugees in Egypt are difficult because Egyptian authorities do not allow them to work or study. It is only 2,000 of 7000 recognized applicants who have been given little support by UNHCR because they are either families with children or elderly people. Church organizations also only help those who are recognized refugees. This situation has resulted into refugees’ adoption the culture of resource share where those who work or receive money from relatives or friends pay the rent and buy food for their roommates, relatives and friends.
The lures of drug taking and drug running sometimes came up in these conversations. Of 74 focus group participants one person said anybody can persuade him to involve in drugs since he could not get any job but he has to pay the rent and buy the food to survive. One of the people who have been individually interviewed was a 38 year old street vendor (SO) from Southern Sudan, was a drug consumer. His wife and their friends were trying hard to convince him to quit drug consumption. On the other hand, MANG, a 26 year old man from Khartoum, went as far as saying: “Since Al-Kareem [Allah] does not allow me to succeed by legal means I will bring the success from above [meaning illegally].” MANG is a painter and he contacted a French institute which positively evaluated his certificates. He had tuberculosis at the time when I interviewed him, coughed each few minutes and had no job, but he was full of life and smiled throughout the interview.
From focus group studies, despite reluctance to talk about drug issues and other social and psychological ills that the individual interviews revealed, I was able to create a profile what I have called “resilience” among refugees. Despite the difficult conditions in which they live in Egypt, the refugees who participated in focus group discussions argued that they would keep up knocking at different doors until some of them would open for them. They kept sending appeals, writing to immigration agencies in countries such as Canada, apply to embassies of different Western countries in Egypt, never gave up their plans of studying or having decent jobs after they will have traveled to countries about which they dream, etc.
What explains the industriousness and resilience of people in these focus groups is most of them hope and work for better future; many of them are multi-talented; and others exploit to their benefit every opportunity they get. None of the 74 people who participated in the focus groups said he/she lost the hope of being resettled in one of the resettlement countries or leaving Egypt to any country where he/she can realize some of his/her plans. For example, MTR, a 26 year old male participant of FG1 from Juba, who lives in Arba’a wa Nus (northeastern end of Cairo) and works in Shubra (northern end of the city), never missed a seminar of Forced Migration and Refugee Studies that took place every Wednesday in the downtown Cairo at the American University in Cairo. Again, WAD, a 32 years old male participant of FG3 from Khartoum, is a journalist, guitar player, story writer and was responsible for computer data entry in a company. He and a 30 years old male participant (ADRO) of the same focus group entertained Sudanese refugee community members almost every week. The latter participant is a singer who was an electricity technician while in Sudan. Such examples are many among the young male Sudanese refugees in Egypt.
5. INDIVIDUAL INTERVIEWS:
Between December 2003 and the first week of May 2004 I interviewed 93 people individually or in groups of two people. These included people from different parts of Cairo and a couple who came from Tanta. I mentioned earlier that I met people and exchanged addresses with them but when I came to the stage of interviews many of them apologized and others suddenly disappeared at hours of interviews. For entire days, I vainly waited for individuals who never came to the place of appointment and never called to apologize and a few of them apologized when I met them in subsequent days. My identity as a Sudanese was the problem for some people and therefore they were skeptical that I might have been sent by the Sudanese government to collect the information about the refugees in Egypt, others were afraid that Egyptian authorities might avail themselves to the information which they would have provided. Others did not want to provide information to a fellow Sudanese who cannot help them materially or raise their hopes that he has the ability to sponsor them to travel to Canada or he does not teach any course or have any administrative responsibilities with any of the organizations that provide services to refugees. Many other white men and women who study them do. The director of St. Andrews met me saying: “I do not want to see you in the compound of this church because you might be a Sudanese government agent.” During the very first meeting which I had with him, I preferred sitting and chatting with refugees rather than mixing myself with church authorities or non-Sudanese who were employed in these organizations. Some refugees interpreted as a defect my limited interaction with people whom they saw as their saviors and in more than one occasion some individuals went as far as telling those whom they thought were related to me: “If he was a white person we would have allowed him to interview us.” And others said: “If only he had white friend accompanying him he would be able to finish his research in a few weeks.”
My friends, relatives and their friends broke this barrier. I decided to start with their friends and neighbors who closely interacted with them and during each interview I asked the participants to suggest one or two of their friends and/or relatives. I was able to interview 93 people in this way between December 2003 and mid May 2004; and 32 of these were females and 71 were males; 53 were Muslims and 40 were Christians. Thus the total number of the individuals interviewed between September 2003 and mid May 2004 is 105 and the following table explains their distribution by region:
Region Darfur Eastern Sudan Kordofan Riverain Sudan Southern Sudan
Number of participants 7 4 4 47 43
The participants were from 41 ethnic groups (e.g. Denka, Ja’alyeen, Fur, Mahas, etc.). Only seven of them mentioned that they were members of two ethnic groups (i.e. Kraish-Fur, Kinana-Shuluk, Ja’ali-Dungulawi, Ja’ali-Denka, Fur-Mahas and Greek-Anywak). Their educational background was as follows:
Level of Education No schooling Primary Junior High Senior High College University Masters Doctorate
Number of participants 4 12 11 40 4 32 2 0
And their ages were as follows:
Age range 18-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 50-59 60-69
Number of participants 4 40 50 7 4
The main topic of this aspect of my research is young men, but I also gave especial consideration to females because the evidence they provided about young males is very crucial to the study because what they said about males completes what males said about themselves. I was planning to leave the interviews with females until the end of the fieldwork to avoid any problems that might have disturbed my research but I discovered there was no problem in interviewing them. Also, the number of individuals interviewed included people who were older than 39 years; however, in each interview I asked the respondents about the problems the young male refugees encountered since they had children, sisters and brothers, and friends at the age range which was the focus of the research. Just as I did in focus group discussions, questions in individual interviews were centered on issues such as housing, work, legal status, education and vocational training and racial discrimination. Studying these aspects, I was able to investigate the adjustment, adaptation and integration processes of young Sudanese male refugees in Egypt, their resilience and their industriousness in these new social and economic settings.
It should be underlined that Sudanese refugees in Cairo are dispersed all over the city but their numbers are larger in Ainshams, Arba’a wa Nus, Hai Assabi’, Hai Ala’ashir, Deer Almalak, Ardaliwa, Ma’adi (Hadaig, Ma’adi, Thankanat, etc.), Misr Aljadeeda and Muhandiseen. HASH, a 33 years old male respondent from White Nile (central Sudan) whom I interviewed in Ainshams, states:
Those who live in rich parts of Ma’adi and Muhandiseen are generally young women who are either married to foreigners or have any kind of amorous relationship with them, prostitutes, or work in housekeeping industry with people who pay them well. Many of those who live in Muhandiseen are by reputation either prostitutes or pimps. They are the category of Sudanese refugees who live in good conditions.
Such allegations about those Sudanese who live in these rich areas are also confirmed by AM, 31 years old male lawyer, and FM, 32 female accountant, both from Khartoum. AM, another respondent, even goes further to say that he knew a rich Sudanese man who sold his apartment in Muhandiseen because he did not want to be mistaken as one of the Sudanese who are involved in prostitution in that area. However, I made seven individuals who lived in these rich areas but none of them said that he/she was involved in prostitution. It is also worth noting that many refugees are forced to change residence very frequently depending on the location of the work place, resettlement of the roommates, arrivals of spouses from Sudan and in most cases the exploitation of their Egyptian landlords. Moreover, there are cases when people are not able to pay their share of rent and wander around between different places staying one day with a friend, another with a relative and another with another friend. For example, SE, a 23 year old Nuba woman from Khartoum, wandered between Raba’a, Tawfeeg, Mirs Aljadeeda and Hai Ala’ashir more than ten times between February and April. Egyptian landlords also exploit conditions in which refugees live, they often take the first and last payments and ask the tenants to leave the apartment without giving them the money they owed. 47 respondents mention that some of the reasons landlords use to evict tenants include: 1) they do not want many visitors to the tenants’ residence; 2) tenants have children who make noise upstairs; 3) landlords’ sons or brothers are getting married or coming back for vacation; 4) individuals from opposite sex are visiting tenants who are single. Such problems do not exist in the areas such as Thakanat Ma’adi and Muhandiseen where rich foreigners and Egyptians from higher classes live. Sudanese apartments are generally crowded to the extent that in some cases those who come late are often obliged to wake up some of those who sleep early because the door will not open if they do not step back and give access to the roommate who is arriving. For example, I found 15 individuals living in a three bedroom apartment in ‘Ajuza, five out of nine individuals who participated in FG9 on December 22, 2004 in Arad Al-Liwa were living in one bedroom apartment. Three out of five rented the apartment and the other two were locked out of their apartment by their landlord because they did not pay the rent. Therefore, they came to stay with friends until they would be able to pay the money they owned. Apartments that are rented out to Sudanese are mostly old, poorly furnished and are more expensive than those which Egyptians occupy. For instance, the apartment where I held a focus group (FG3) with nine individuals in Arad Al-Liwa was an unpainted ground level apartment in a building which was still under construction. It did not have windows (tenants had to close the window holes with cardboard) and the only furniture was a fridge, two beds and a stove. It was rented out for 250 Egyptian pounds per month; and water, electricity, gas and garbage were paid separately. Such an apartment is rented out to Egyptians for 75 or 100 Egyptian pounds- an amount which the Sudanese pays for unfurnished room in Arba’a wa Nus where seven, eight or nine individuals share one washroom and each of them cooks in his/her room.
In sum, Sudanese are struggling to rent in Egypt but in most cases individuals are obliged to live in several residential areas in short periods of time which makes it difficult for them to establish emotional ties with particular neighborhoods. They are “city nomads” who wander from one part of it to another looking for friends or relatives to provide them with shelter because they could not afford the rent. Other reasons that obliged them to change the residence so often are: 1) the location of new job; 2) landlords reclaim their apartments back and; 3) the departure or marriage of roommates. Because of their unstable residential conditions, Sudanese in Egypt developed an adjustment culture of resource sharing where those who work or receive money from relatives or friends outside Egypt accommodate those who can not afford to pay the rent.
Although Egypt signed UN Convention of 1951, its Protocol of 1967 and OAU Convention of 1969, Egyptian authorities do not allow refugees to work in their territories because Egypt is a country with relatively larger population and very limited resources. Unemployment rates are very high to the extent that Egyptian authorities are hoping to send 5 millions of Egyptians to Sudan, an integration process which Bashir and Mubarak (presidents of Sudan and Egypt respectively) signed in April 2004. As a result of this Egyptian labor protection policy most of the Sudanese refugees in Egypt do not have regular employment. In addition, UNHCR provides financial assistance only to the families with children and the elderly people who have been recognized by the international organization as refugees. Most of the refugees depend on the small number of their relatives and friends who work in the informal sector (e.g. factory workers without benefits, housekeepers, street vendors) or family members who remit the money for them from other countries. For instance among 105 respondents, only 44 had jobs irregular during the time when I interviewed them while 16 individuals mentioned they received little money from Caritas (UNHCR implementing partner) because they had children or because they were elderly people. Nine individuals received money from relatives outside Egypt, two women their husbands did not want them to work, one woman was not working because her baby was due in two weeks and was staying with a family of her husband’s friend, one woman gave birth a month ago and was staying with her sister, and one man stopped working because he was waiting for an appeal interview at UNHCR. He worked in a factory which he describes as dangerous (workers exposed to chemical materials without masques) and that is why he quit it a month earlier so that the results of any expected medical test will be free of chest and skin diseases which he says many of his colleagues had. Like other refugees who were working during the interviews, he worked 14 hours a day- six days a week, for 300 pounds per month without benefits. The remaining 31 respondents were looking for jobs at the time when I interviewed them. They were accommodated by friends, relatives or compatriots with who they were staying.
All the refugees who work are often exploited by employers. Most of them are paid little (250 Egyptian pounds as an average payment per month) money for long hours of work which in some cases includes several tasks. For example, babysitters are asked to cook or clean the house, or those hired for housekeeping are also asked to take care of elderly people or dogs. RM, a 26 year old female respondent, from Juba told me that as a domestic she has to take care of the children, cook, clean the apartment, wash the dishes and sometimes she is waken up at night if a family member needed water. During the family vacation she is also taken to Alexandria to take care of the children and do the family chores. She has only two days off in a month and she is paid 900 Egyptian pounds (approximately $200 Canadian). ZAM, 26 years old male respondent from Khartoum, said that he was hired for 300 pounds per month to clean up a villa, but he discovered that housekeeping included carrying an old man on his back to the washroom and to his bed. It is unusual practice in the informal sector that employers pay refugees one or two weeks late to make sure that they will continue working for the following month. Therefore refugees who quit their jobs for whatever reasons often are not able to take the money of one or two weeks. Refugees who return to ask about the unpaid money often recount that employers frequently make false accusations against them that they have stolen their properties (e.g. cellular phone, computer, watch, gold, etc.) to frighten them about the unpaid days. For example, one refugee worked with an Egyptian police or security officer as a housekeeper. The officer paid him in the first month the money he was entitled to; however, in the subsequent months the officer some times paid him late and other times paid him less than the money he was supposed to receive. Then the housekeeper told the officer that he would not continue working in that way and as the officer wanted to keep him he accused him immediately of stealing his cellular telephone. The housekeeper tried to quit the job several times and each time he ran away the officer searched for him and brought him back to work. When he was asked why he did not tell the officer that he would never go back to work in stead of hiding from him, the housekeeper replied that he was afraid of being deported because he was not a recognized refugee and that his one month residence visa expired dozens of months ago. Moreover, refugees who do not accept exploitation and become street vendors, find that their goods are often confiscated or they are jailed for few days before being released after having bribed police officers. Even those who have the UHCR blue cards are not exempt from such treatment.
In conclusion, because of the increase of unemployment rates in Egypt resulting from the declined of the foreign labor market in most of the Gulf countries in addition to Libya’s recent restrictions to Egyptian laborers entering its territories, the authorities do not allow Sudanese refugees to work in Egypt. The few who work are exploited because they are secretly employed in the informal sector without benefits or insurance. MG (28 years old male Denka) often repeated during the interview that factory machines cut off fingers of three of his colleagues and the employer never thought of compensating them.
8. LEGAL STATUS:
In Egypt, there is not much difference between Sudanese who are legally recognized as refugees and those who are not. Both categories are not allowed to work and the young men and women who hold the blue cards are treated in the same way as those who do not have them. HR, HA, and HF (all 26 years old men from Khartoum) recount that there are occasions when individuals they knew who had blue cards were arrested and detained for several days or were deported to Sudan. Two three weeks after I had interviewed HR, his roommate called to inform me that HR was arrested at Cairo international Airport two days ago when he accompanied to there a friend who was traveling to Sudan. I contacted Barbara Harrell-Bond who wrote to Egyptian human rights organizations and to UN authorities that HR’s life would be in danger if he is deported to Sudan. We paid 200 Egyptian pounds to bail him out after he spent six days in jail. However, it was stamped in his passport that he has to leave Egypt in 24 days. His file at the UNHCR was closed and he was arrested because his visa expired since 2001. I wrote an appeal explaining his situation to UNHCR authorities in Cairo but he was told to wait until he will probably be called in December 2004. HR’s movement was thus restricted by his legal status since March 2004. This is the situation in which the other 19 respondents with closed files, in individual interviews, live. The following table explains that the legal status of persons whom I individually interviewed:
Type of Status Number Details
Recognized Refugees 48 11 settled in Egypt by UNHCR
Pending Appeal 14
Awaiting for Interview 2
Awaiting for Interview Result 18
Never Applied RSD 3
Closed Files 20
The following table illustrates the legal status of persons who participated in focus group discussions:
Type of Status Number
Recognized Refugees 20
Pending Appeal 8
Awaiting for Interview 10
Awaiting for Interview Result 16
Never Applied 0
Closed Files 20
Like HR, eight members of Peace and Justice Committee who participated in FG8 were unable to present members of their communities in front of Egyptian authorities because they were not recognized as refugees and their visas expired several years ago. Their role is limited to informing church authorities when a problem involving Sudanese and Egyptians occurs. Moreover, those who are recognized refugees and holders of UNHCR’s blue cards also experience difficulties in their daily activities. For example, GLL is 28 years old recognized male refugee who is a street vendor. He recounts his problem with security men as follows:
I display cosmetics (soap, perfumes, etc.), mirrors, combs, lipsticks, and wallets at Umbaba Market (Giza District). One evening I was on my way home after having spent several hours under the burning sun trying to sell some of my goods. Two security men stopped me when I was about to enter the bus and asked about my passport. I gave them my UN card. They were not convinced and called a taxi to take us to Umbaba Police Station. They asked the taxi driver to drop us after we left the police station three blocks behind us. The security men asked me to pay the fare and when asked for the reason the taxi driver intervened saying that it is the rule in Egypt that the accused pays the taxi fare when he is taken to the police office. “But I did nothing against the law and again I am not brought to a police office.” I said. “This is the way things work here.” The driver responded. I gave him seven pounds and he went away. The two security men repeatedly told me to free myself and I always responded that I did not have money to give them. When they realized that I was not going to give them money, one of them tore my UN card and threatened me that they did not want to see me in Umbaba again.
Interviews document that 11 of 48 individuals who have been recognized as refugees were settled in Egypt. But as the country does not have any policy of settling refugees in its territories, there is no way for their official integration. In fact, all 105 respondents consider Egypt as a transit point to North America, Australia and Europe; and similarly, none of the 74 individuals who participated in the focus groups said that they wanted to live in Egypt. BY, a 35 year old economist from Central Sudan, is the only respondent that works exceptionally well- he is informally employed (not untitled to benefits or insurance and is paid less than colleagues with lower qualifications) by two companies which pay him about $1200 Canadian per month. He was helped by his Egyptian colleague (who when was a child grew up with Sudanese expatriate children in a Gulf country) to get these jobs. Although he married an Egyptian with who he has children, bought an apartment in Cairo and speaks Egyptian Arabic like an Egyptian, he does not want to live in Egypt. He is thinking to either immigrate to Canada, Australia or United States or to go back to Sudan as soon as the problem of war and conscription in Sudan is solved. He says he realized that he will stay as a foreigner for ever since there is no room in Egyptian law for foreigners to become citizens.
To questions about the difference between individuals whose files are cancelled by UNHCR and those who have been settled in Egypt, 104 participants responded that there is no difference and explained their responses with the fact that nothing has changed in the life of unlucky friends, relatives and individuals they know who have been settled in Egypt. Moreover, three of those who have been settled in Egypt argue that refugees whose files were closed by UNHCR were even better because their fate is known and that they are free to leave Egypt; yet, one individual with closed file argued that those who have been recognized and settled in Egypt are relatively lucky since there is an organization that they can run to in ultimately difficult times or at least they feel that there is an international agency which is there to protect them theoretically. To protect themselves Sudanese refugees avoid anything that involves police or security men because the latter usually jail the refugee whether he/she is guilty or not since the authorities are first interested to see that the refugee is having a valid stay visa. Moreover, even in the occasions when the refugee is having a valid visa Egyptian criminals are not brought to justice. The six participants in the FG7 repeatedly mentioned that a refugee neighbor in his early twenties was attacked and killed by an Egyptian. He was on his way home from a farewell party with friends. The criminal was arrested for one month and released. They often meet him in the neighborhood. Consequently, it is common to see Sudanese keep walking straight as if nothing happened while Egyptians call them with racist terms such as samara, bunga bunga (black), shackshuka (prostitutes), etc. 71 respondents emphasized that the only way to protect themselves from Egyptians is to ignore the discriminatory words which the latter address to them. However, MANG, a 26 year old male respondent, has adopted a strategy of finding to himself two Egyptian friends who accompany him in the neighborhood. He says that when other Egyptians see him walking with their fellow citizen next time they will not address him with any discriminatory words because they expect he will report what they say to his Egyptian friends.
9. RACIAL DISCRIMINATION:
Like in many Arab, Middle Eastern and North African countries, darker skinned people are usually discriminated against in Egypt. Authorities sometimes round up Sudanese and other sub-Saharan African population in Egypt and send them to jail for no specific reason as Apiku (2000, 2003) and Ashton (2003) reported. I asked refugees from different parts of Sudan, including 47 participants from riverain Sudan and uncovered that Sudanese in Egypt regardless of their religious or cultural backgrounds are far from integration. My findings on integration of riverain central Sudanese contradict Anita Fabos’s (1999) findings who argued that they were closer to the integration in Egypt than Southern Sudanese and that the only marker they used to distinguish themselves from Egyptians was the central Sudanese visiting patterns. The four lightest skinned respondents (AA, AF, RX and AU) argued that Egyptians immediately look down upon them after having recognized from their accent that they were Sudanese. AA (21 years old young man) and AF (his 53 years old mother) told me the story of the murder of their family member (AA’s uncle and AF’s brother) by his Egyptian wife and his two employees one of whom his wife had an affair with. They recounted that the wife conspired with the two employees and killed her 47 years old husband. They said the man was stabbed more than 20 times in different parts of his body by the two employees when his wife pretended that she was visiting her parents.
Even the six Nubian respondents whom I expected to be culturally closer to Egyptians stated that their integration in Egypt was impossible arguing that Egyptians and Sudanese are culturally different. For instance, a 41 year old Kunuz woman, her 21 year old nephew, 30 year old Dugulawi and 38 year old Halfawi who are all Nubians said that Sudanese and Egyptian cultures are different in the sense that Sudanese normally visit each other whereas in Egypt a brother cannot visit his brother’s family if the latter is not at home. Therefore, 69% of the respondents stated that one of the major problems that occur between the landlords and the tenants is that often landlords suspect that visits by individuals from opposite sex to their tenants usually involves promiscuous activities. However, this does not mean that riverain Northern Sudanese are more liberal than Egyptian lower class population, but I doubt that they will ask their tenants questions about their visitors and sometimes follow the visitors right to the tenants’ apartments the way Egyptians do. Moreover, three men who married to Egyptian women mentioned that they were experiencing difficulties while strolling in the park with their wives and their children. Based on the discussions I had with them (with AB, AH and BY who have Egyptians wives) they were often looked at critically and they often hear Egyptians saying things such as, laban wa shocolata (milk and chocolate). One of them whose daughter goes to school mentioned to me that his daughter complained to him several times that her colleagues told her that she was different from them. It is worth noting that as Egyptian society is a class- based society, Egyptian females who married to Sudanese males are often uneducated or poorly educated women from lower classes.
Discrimination also exists in buyuut Allah (mosques). It is a common tradition in Islam that the musalleen (those who pray) stand shoulder to shoulder and foot to foot (as a sign of equality and some Muslims believe that it keeps Satan away from whispering to them) but eight respondents said that when they stretch their feed out to meet those of their Egyptian fellow Muslims’ in many cases the latter draw their feet back. Seven of these were asked several times if they were Muslims while they were going out of the mosque after having done Friday prayers; and one of them was told right away that he was wasting his time in prayers because his type was created to go to hell. There are also gangs that enter apartments occupied by Sudanese, threatened the tenants and take their property away. Ten respondents stated that they or their Sudanese neighbors were attacked by such gangs. For example, two sisters (34 and 24 years) whom I interviewed in Ma’adi on March 26, 2004 stated that their Sudanese neighbors down stairs were attacked by members of a gang on March 25, 2004 and looted their properties. The sisters went on saying that they were lucky because the members of the gang first knocked at their door but they refused to open it. However, there are few cases when Sudanese interact and exchange visits with their Egyptian neighbors because in two occasions I met Egyptians visiting Sudanese families and in one occasion I saw a friend’s wife visiting an Egyptian neighbor.
10. EDUCATION AND VOCATIONAL TRAINING:
Although education and vocational training are keys for better future almost everywhere, only few Sudanese refugees in Cairo are studying or receiving vocational training. St. Andrews, Sacred Heart Church and All Saints Cathedral are the only organizations that provide English language and computer programs on continuous bases and SUDIA (Sudan Development Initiative Abroad) provides similar programs occasionally. The enrolment quota of education programs in these organizations is very little and therefore refugees had to apply and wait for a longtime before they are enrolled. It is interesting that many teachers in these programs are refugees themselves and include a few volunteers from western countries who come to Egypt for different reasons. One of the teachers, who was informally trained in Koranic school system in Sudan, is now a computer expert and teaches at St. Andrews. One surprising occasion was when I met a friend in the compound of St. Andrews who greeted met quickly and rushed in the building after he told me that he was late for the class. Two hours later, he came back and apologized. I said: “What class did you have?” “Computer class,” he said. “I am very glad that now you are taking computer classes”, I responded. With a big smile, he said: “No, I am not taking computer classes; I teach computer programs.” I was very happy and surprised at the same time because he was a cook in an Egyptian family in 1997 when I left Egypt and came to Canada.
However, 90 participants either do not have the ability to take courses in these organizations because the organizations offer services within their compounds in the city center or not far from it whereas most of the refugees live far away and consequently they cannot afford to commute regularly between the areas where they live and the places where these education programs are based. The money which they will pay for the bus fare is needed to buy food and pay the rent. However, five respondents, two of whom were teaching programs at St. Andrews, did not need to enroll in the courses offered at the church based schools. One of the three remaining respondents, in this category, was teaching computer at SUDIA, another was a translator of the Nuer and English languages at the UNHCR office in Cairo, and another was an economist working for two companies. The few people who attend those (church based school) programs are those who have relatives and friends in other countries who send them the money regularly or few women whose husbands work. For instance, only ten respondents, including CF (32 year old male Denka from Bahr-Al-Gazal, Southern Sudan), NO (28 years old female Mahas from Kasala, Eastern Sudan), YR (28 years old male Nuba from Khartoum, Central Sudan), ML (23 years old male Kinani/Shuluk from Malakal, Southern Sudan), DM (30 years old male Denka from Jazeera, Central Sudan), MA (24 years old male Fur from Darfur, Western Sudan), LN (19 years old female Denka from Bahr-Al-Gazal, Southern Sudan), AS (28 years old female Nuba from Khartoum, Central Sudan), XO (23 years old Denka from Abyaye, Southern Sudan) and MK (19 years old male Fur from Tamboul, Central Sudan), were studying during the time when I interviewed them. Six of these struggled alone to study and survive, one was helped by her husband from his little salary (400 Egyptian pounds- approximately $150 Canadian), two were helped by relatives from USA and only one was sponsored by UNHCR to study at Donbosco Polytechnic College.
UNHCR sponsors training programs via Caritas which sends very few refugees to Donbosco and Isa’af colleges which offer various vocational training programs (e.g. advanced computer courses, mechanics, welding oil pipelines, air conditioning, etc.). XO (23 year old Denka from Southern Sudan) and one of my key informants who were sponsored by UNHCR to study conditioning at Donbosco Polytechnic College told me that Caritas pays the refugee 15 pounds Egyptian per class and the courses are normally taught three times per week and are offered for three months. They continued saying that the enrolment of refugees in these colleges is very difficult. First the refugee applicants have to write application letters to Caritas which chooses about 30 individuals and sends them to the abovementioned colleges. However, in some cases the refugees who have been selected by Caritas to study in these colleges wait more than three months because the enrolment of refugees depends on the number of Egyptian applicants. The two respondents who studied at Donbosco each of them waited more than three months (one of them three months and two weeks and the other four months). Although the colleges offer many courses, my respondents said that refugees are only allowed to enroll for mechanics and air conditioning courses. The problem occurs when they try to cash the money for the classes which they take per month. They stated that refugees are made to go between Caritas and the colleges where they study several times before they cash it. When they asked the administration of the college if their hours were sent to Caritas and the latter would say “yes”, but when they have to go to Caritas they find that the money was not ready because the hours were not sent. SRM (key informant) who was staying with me in the apartment which I rented in Ainshams in the northwest of the city was made to commute three times between Donbosco in Shubra (far north) and Caritas (in the south). He spent six pounds in transportation before he cashed the 180 pounds Egyptian ($36 Canadian). Moreover, most of the training offered in these colleges is theoretical and when it is completed refugees return to their normal life which includes either long hours of work in the informal sector or long hours of sleep and wandering between friends and relatives’ homes hoping to eat one meal per day.
Each of the 90 respondents who were between 18 and 39 years old has emphasized the importance of education in his/her life immediately after the food and rent. ROF’s answer to the following question which I asked every respondent provides a conclusion that young Sudanese refugees in Egypt find it difficult to study because they lack money and time. The question is: “What is the most serious problem that young male refugees face in Egypt?” ROF responds:
Most of the young men are not able to study because they are working to survive. They do not have the time to look for places where they can study. Most of them work for 250 pounds per month, pay 150 of it for rent and keep the 100 for transportation and food during the month.
This is regarding the studying in church based schools and commercial institutes which offer computer and English language courses. It is impossible for Sudanese refugees in Egypt to study in colleges and universities that are recognized by the state because they are foreigners and foreigners pay fees in pounds Sterling. Therefore, every individual of the 90 respondents who are under 40 is struggling and hoping to find an opportunity to get out of Egypt so that he/she can study. They repeatedly write appeals to the UNHCR and sometimes to its headquarters in Geneva, give copies of their asylum cases and documents to people who travel to western countries and contact those who have already been resettled in those countries to send them application forms.
The refugees who have been recognized by UNHCR pay half of their medical treatment because Caritas covers the other half. Caritas covers its half of treatment only if the refugee follows all the procedures of treatment in particular medical institutions which are all owned and administered by Egyptian Christians. As result of this policy refugees sometimes pay more than one fare to go to clinics and pharmacies which Caritas recommended to them. Problems occur when they visit Caritas to be refunded for the treatment cost or be sent to the clinics that have arrangement with Caritas. As mentioned earlier, they spent long hours standing and often they have to return several times before they get the service. I witnessed several times refugees who were told by employees that the service was ready but when they got there were told that they should return in the following days because the service was not yet ready. I wondered why employees did not tell patients to wait until the service was ready in stead of making them to come and spent several hours and return home without being served.
On the other hand, refugees whose files are closed have to bear all the cost of their treatment and therefore they often do not look for treatment until they are become very ill. Members of the latter category of refugees are taken to government hospitals where they are treated without discrimination as MANG, a 26 year old male refugee from Khartoum who had tuberculosis at the time when I interviewed him, told me. He spent about two weeks at Aldamardash Hospital. He further emphasized that treatment in Egyptian government hospitals is free but patients wait for long time and in some cases people with urgent medical situations were delayed. I realize it myself when a friend’s brother, who came recently from Sudan and who was staying with me in Al-Zahra (Ainshams), fell suddenly sick with serious appendicitis on May 19, 2004. On the following day we took him to emergency section of Almataria Hospital and he was transferred to Aldamardash Hospital where he was given intravenous and pain killers. Doctors also wrote some medications which we purchased after he was discharged. However, the pain became very serious on the third day and we called a refugee who was medical doctor and came to the apartment, examined him and said that it was serious appendicitis and suggested that the patient should be taken immediately to the hospital for surgery. Then the patient was taken back to the emergency of Almataria Hospital where trainee doctors examined him, gave him pain killers and prescribed urine and stool examination before he would have returned on the following day. On the fourth day, the patient’s situation became very critical and we took him to St. Peter International Hospital (private hospital) where he was immediately taken to be operated. The total cost was over $200 US and he would have died if we depended on government hospitals because he would have survived for less than five hours as the doctor who operated him told us. We also did not worry much when our friend was undergoing surgery because one of the nurses present during the surgery was a Sudanese friend from Darfur.
The interviews also reveal that many Sudanese have sold their body organs (especially kidney) to survive in Cairo. I have not met anybody who said he sold his kidney or testicle but 11 respondents mentioned that they knew people who did so and one of them even told me that an Egyptian mediator suggested to him if he wanted to sell one of his kidneys or if he knew someone who wanted to do so. They also mentioned names of private clinics where such operations take place.
Most distributing are rumors among the Sudanese refugees that Egyptian doctors remove some of the organs (kidney, testicle, uterus, etc.) on hospital visits. Since refugees believe that there is no law protecting them they worry much about their own safety and usually avoid visiting hospitals and clinics and other medical institutions. During interviews 19 participants recounted that individuals they knew went to hospitals and later after they were resettled in USA or Australia discovered that some of their organs (kidney in particular) were removed. However, only one respondent, a 35 year old man (MD) from Khartoum, told me about a specific incident which occurred to him. An Egyptian broker approached and asked him if he knew a young healthy man like himself who wanted to sell one of his kidneys. MD answered him that he knew nobody who wanted to do so. The broker told him if he wanted to sell his. MD replied that he can sell one of his kidneys if the price was convincing. The broker told him that it was $ 5000 dollars ($1000 before the operation and $4000 after it) and he would become rich. MD told the broker he would meet him on the following day. However, MD did not go to meet the broker because he only wanted to know if the rumors about trading with human organs were true.
A further 87 respondents told the stories of a women who went for plastic surgery and was brought back dead with most of her organs removed; while 91 of them narrated another story of a young man from southern Sudan who died in a hospital. They say that young man had jumped from the balcony of his apartment because of unsuccessful love affair. The story was that doctors in the hospital killed him, removed his organs and gave his empty body to his relatives for the burial. The relatives refused to accept his body until they called his father who came from Sudan and saw himself what happened to his son’s body. The young man jumped from the balcony of his apartment and broke himself because of unsuccessful love story. Four respondents also narrated the story of a young male refugee from Darfur who was accompanied by his friend to a hospital and disappeared from it after a couple of days. One of the doctors was very kind to the patient and convinced the companion that there was no need for him to stay with his friend during the night because was doing the night shift and would be taking care of the patient. One morning the companion went back to the hospital as usual to stay beside his friend during the day, but he found that the patient was not there. He talked to the authorities of the hospital to tell him where his friend was and the latter responded that they never received a patient with such descriptions and identifications as he provided. He also asked about the doctor who was taking care of his friend and the authorities said they did not have such a doctor either. After three days, members of Sudanese communities were surprised that the body of the young man was found thrown under a bridge near the Nile.
These and many other stories were told by people from different Sudanese communities and some individuals argue that they knew the victims personally or even related to them. The spread of such stories created fear of Egyptians among the Sudanese communities in Cairo. As a result of this, Sudanese in Egypt are looking inward to protect themselves.
12. GENDER PROBLEMS AMONG SUDANESE IN EGYPT:
In my original proposal, one of the questions I said I would examine was whether young men’s marginal status in Egypt affected the cultural roles that men in Sudanese society generally perform together with their sense of masculinity. The type of difficulties which the Sudanese refugees have experienced in Egypt, clearly have affected the family structure and the way males and females look at each other.
12a. Family Organization:
Among 105 respondents, 44 were single, 41 married, ten engaged, five separated, and five divorced. However, 13 of the 41 married interviewees were not living with their spouses and out of the ten respondents, who mentioned that they were engaged, eight never saw their partners for years. With the exception of one case, where the pregnant mother was in Egypt and the father was with the son in Sudan, mothers were living with children and fathers were living without them. Many young men and women, who said that they were married, never met their spouses since late 1990s. For example, SM, a 34 year old single mother of two children, says that she is married. However, when I asked her about her husband she shook her head and said: “I never saw him or heard of him since 1998.”
12b. The Position of Women:
Sudanese women from southern Sudan in Cairo are in a relatively better position compared to Sudanese refugee men. Of 36 women whom I individually interviewed, 12 Southern Sudanese were working and supporting their families, whereas one person was working of 12 riverain Northern and Central Sudanese. Among the 12 Southern Sudanese women who were working, two were living with their husbands in the same apartment, two were divorced, three said they were married but their husbands were not in Egypt, one said she was married on paper only for a particular purpose and therefore the nominal husband was not living with her, three were living with their mothers whom they were taking care of and one was unmarried single mother with one daughter. Four of these women provided adult relatives, including people than parents, with food and shelter. Some of the people who depended on them were male relatives or friends.
The only Northern Sudanese woman who was working was taking care of her mother and she was waiting until she would find a suitable man to marry. She told me she became skeptical of young Northern Sudanese men in Egypt since she loaned money for a young man who claimed to invest it in a business but could not pay her back.
I also asked young women about their opinion on young refugee men. Six of them think that the latter are opportunistic and lazy because many of them depend on girlfriends who work in housekeeping industry and give them money. Young male refugees’ opportunism was confirmed by two male respondents (19 years old PP and 34 years old CB). Other women (three) think that there are young men who are serious and self dependent but that they are few.
These opinions were supported by focus groups data. Our conversation in this focus group (FG 15) was mainly based on young Sudanese females’ perception of young Sudanese males, most of whom are not working; the social and psychological implications of living at the margins of Egyptian society for such a long time (at least two years); the importance of relatives and friends who have been already resettled in North America; Australia and Europe; and the networks among the Sudanese from different cultural, regional and ethnic backgrounds who live in Cairo. Our discussion took about two hours and some of the conclusions reached were: 1) many young men are not working in Cairo because there are no jobs available to them; 2) some young men have become “parasitic” depending on females who work for survival; 3) many young men and women have been subjected to social and psychological ills such as becoming drug and/or alcohol consumers. Family conflicts, separation and divorce have become very common ; 4) generally women are able to find relatively better paid jobs; 5) with the exception of people from Equatorian origin, Sudanese from other provinces who have been resettled in Australia, Canada and United States remit some money and send forms of sponsorship to those who have remained in Cairo ; and 6) relationships between Sudanese from different ethnic, religious and regional backgrounds became stronger to the extent that when some of them see their compatriots quarrelling with Egyptians they immediately intervene and take sides with Sudanese without question.
12c. The Position of Men and Sexual Contacts:
A total of 31 young men were working (as street vendors, housekeepers, factory-workers, etc.) at the time when I interviewed them and seven of these were married. Of the 24 young men who were working and who were not married, when I asked them if they had intimate relationships with women, only two responded that they had, but the other 22 young men responded that they did not have time to think about women. Those who had jobs spent most of the week hours working and had only one day off during which they took rest and visited friends. 35 men were not working when I interviewed them and four of these were supported by relatives who remitted them money from outside.
Two of the four men supported by relatives said they had intimate relationship with women, one was engaged to his cousin who was in USA and said he would never have intimate relationship with another woman and another told me that he was first focusing in his English courses and on how he can leave Egypt. Of 31 young men, who were not working at the time of interview and who did not have relatives sending money from outside, six told me that they had relationship with women, 14 said that they were preoccupied by the job search, and 11 stated that they did not have energy for such things because they were often hungry. They got one poor meal per day (mostly fava beans and tamia) preceded or followed by tea and peasant bread.
The focus groups included 65 men and 9 women. To the question about how young male refugees satisfy their sexual needs, which I raised in those focus groups whose participants were all men, only seven participants in all focus groups stated that they have Sudanese girl friends, one of them has relationships with Egyptian prostitutes, 17 are married and 40 either said they do not have time or energy for such activities or they have wives or girlfriends in Sudan and on who they did not want cheat. I asked those who stated that they have relationships with Sudanese or Egyptian women if they are going to marry those women but they replied that they are only using them to console themselves from the monotonous conditions in which they live. Three of them stated that they have real girl friends in Sudan and two think that they will look for somebody from Sudan if it comes to marriage because Sudanese women in Cairo are not “good women” for they probably have had relationships with several people before they met them. The focus groups suggested that traditional Sudanese gender roles, where men are dominant, have changed in Egypt. For example, of nine women, who participated in five focus groups, five worked and supported their extended families in Egypt. The families which they supported included parents, siblings and/or friends.
Many young men also worried that the more they stayed in Egypt the more that will affect their sense of masculinity, and some of them think that their masculinity is affected in a more literal manner, that is by coming into contact industry based fertilizers which reduce men’s potency. A total of 69 male respondents believe that most Egyptian men are impotent because of industry based fertilizers and when I responded that how could that be right if streets are full of children they stated that Egyptian men often apply ointments that help them function temporarily. Refugees developed that belief from the fact that either they or their roommates or their friends were street vendors and often had Egyptians clients who purchased ointments. All young men whom I interviewed individually or participated in focus groups believe that the more they stayed in Egypt the more their potency is reduced because of the food (all agricultural products including fruits, vegetables, beans, poultry and beef) which they suspect containing chemicals that affect potency.
Generally, young men (75%) think that women who came to Cairo are not good for marriage because they believe that the latter might have had relationships with several men before they have met them. Therefore, they stick to their girlfriends, fiancées, and wives in Sudan; and others (two respondents) have girlfriends in Cairo whose relationship they consider to be temporary and consider their relationship as permanent with girlfriends, fiancées and wives whom they left behind. However, this does not exclude the fact that some young men were serious in their relationship with women whom they met in Cairo. I met three men who were recently got married to Sudanese refugee women and one woman who got married to a Sudanese refugee man a few days ago before I interviewed her. Moreover, it is not unusual that men who expect that they will be resettled in immigration countries contact their relatives in Sudan who arrange marriages and send wives to them. I met 17 men who contacted their relatives back home who arranged the marriage for them and seven of these have their wives joined them in Egypt.
13. SOCIAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL ILLS:
Divorce, separation of father from the wife and the children, drug and alcohol consumption and selling one’s body organs are some of the social and psychological ills that resulted from the long stay of Sudanese without any particular status in Egypt.
As a result of the situation in which they are living, some refugees gave up but most of them are still struggling to sustain. At total of 21 respondents stated that drug and alcohol consumption was a serious problem. Many people whose files were closed at UNHCR office or the office settled them in Egypt and who did not find job, often became alcoholic or drug consumers or drug dealers. 23 respondents stated that they, their friends and their relatives who never drank or used to drink only occasionally, were addicted to alcoholism in Egypt. Some of the problems that resulted in family breakup were caused by alcoholism as husbands who did not work spend in ‘aragi (local alcohol) some of the little money their wives receive from the hard work. Although, I never met a person who told me that he/she was a drug dealer, two respondents mentioned that their friends confessed to them that life conditions forced them to become drug dealers in Egypt. However, Rufa’a2 (23 years old male participant in FG10) who is not involved in drug dealing or consuming summarizes how a difficult situation can push refugees into drug dealing and consuming when he says:
I am saying that our situation is very difficult here in this country. Anybody can play with my head [mind]. Anybody can use me in drugs or anything else because I have to survive. It is known everywhere that anybody who leaves his country because of ethnic or any other war and goes to another country is recognized as a refugee in the country where he went, but here the situation is different. Those who left their country because of the war are treated like those who leave their countries because of economic reasons.
Many refugees who were in their early twenties or older were very worried about the young men who were aged between 14 and 19 years and who consume a drug known as saraseer (literarily “cockroaches”) which physicians in Egypt prescribe for patients who have problem in the nervous system. Others also formed gangs whose members use sharp materials such as knives and razors to threaten individuals and rob them. Two respondents (59 years old female (KR) and 34 years old male CB) who live in different parts of Ma’adi were very concerned about the gangs that Sudanese teenagers formed in that part of Cairo. Six more respondents, including 19 years old male respondent (PP) who has friends among the gangsters, emphasized that members of these gangs are people who came to Egypt in their early teens or even younger and grew up in Egypt away from their parents’ care because the latter often lock them up in the apartment while they were out working to bring money for survival. The interviews included three single mothers who were working as domestics and had children. They told me they always lock up their children in the apartment until they come back from work.
14. FAMILY AND FRIENDSHIP NETWORKS:
As mentioned earlier, the difficult conditions in Cairo made people from different backgrounds live together. The interviews and focus group discussions uncover that more than 90% of the refugees live in groups. Some of them are relatives, others are coming from the same villages, and still others are members of the same ethnic groups.
However, more importantly there are cases when people from different regional and religious backgrounds lived together. In this way they are able to pool the limited resources they have. For example, the cheapest one bed room apartment in an area such as Ainshams is 250 Egyptian pounds per month and as the average salary of the male refugee, who works 12 hours a day, six days a week, is 250 pounds per month, he cannot survive if he does not bring two or three men to share the apartment with him. They usually look for people whom they know, but there are occasions when individuals are obliged to share apartment with whoever willing to share the apartment with him. Women also do the same. Those who came recently from Sudan were usually exempted from contributing to the rent and their purchase of food between one to three months depending on the arrangement which those who pay the rent made. 52 respondents mentioned that in many cases those who came from Sudan make friends on the train and in the ship before they reach Cairo and if their new friends do not know people they can stay with, the former take them to the relatives with whom they are going to stay until the latter find people with whom they can stay.
For example, a young couple and their son came from Khartoum and stayed with me for two days before a friend of mine (Haroun Adam) who came from Hamilton to meet his wife and his son in Cairo offered to accommodate them because we were already five people in my two bedroom apartment. A few weeks later the couple and their son called our apartment inviting us to meet their two female friends (sisters) who came from another part of the city to visit them. The couple told us that they met the sisters on the train and became friends. Also the key informant who took me to interview participants of FG15 came to Cairo with a brother of a friend of mine who live in Winnipeg. The two young men met on the train when they were coming to Cairo. One of the three female participants was my key informant’s girlfriend. They also met on the train. She was staying with her relatives in southeastern end of the city while her boyfriend was staying in downtown and my friend’s brother was staying with me in the northern end of the city. The three friends connected residents of the three apartments from three different parts of the city to each other. They exchanged visits and helped each other in difficult situations. Members of the three apartments included seven Muslims and 11 Christians from Darfur, Khartoum and Southern Sudan.
Of 105 people who have been individually interviewed, 23 shared apartments with people who were not their relatives, or from their ethnic groups or from their provinces of origin. Their roommates also included Christians and Muslims. 81 respondents lived with people who were either their relatives or from the same regional background and one person was living alone. I found two guests in the apartment of the respondent who was living alone when I went to interview him. The guests were evicted from the apartment they rented and came to stay with my respondent until they would find another apartment. Young men also meet in the places where they take English, computer, air-conditioning or mechanic courses or meet at the cafeterias where they play cards or dominos and become friends. ZM, a 25 year old male respondent, explains how young Sudanese male refugees meet and become friends as follows:
We meet at the cafeteria where we play cards. Sometimes there are cases when you do not know the person and you play cards with him. You ask him his name and you tell him your name. You know his ethnic group and he knows yours. Later on you tell him: “Come with me home!” Then you go with him to his home.
These conditions created stronger ties between people who were never related to each other before they came to Egypt and the lucky ones among them who were resettled in western countries send them money. For example, a Muslim respondent told me that he hosted the wife and children of his Christian friend who traveled to Australia for several months until they were able to join their father. Now his friend sends him money from time to time which he uses for rent and food. Eight more respondents told me they either received money from relatives or knew people who were supported by relatives and friends who traveled in western countries. The money that Sudanese remit to their relatives and friends in Egypt contributes considerably to Egyptian economy. Some refugees stated that at any Western Union office in Cairo most of the clients are Sudanese who go there to cash the money relatives or friends sent for them. I passed four times by a Western Union office that is located near Ainshams subway station and each time I found all their clients were Sudanese. However, nine respondents estimate the money remitted to Sudanese in Egypt by their friends and relatives to be between 450,000 to 600,000 US dollars per month but it difficult to make sure that these estimations are accurate.
15. CONSTRUCTION OF SUDANESE IDENTITY IN EXILE:
Because of their darker skin color and distinct Arabic dialect Sudanese in Egypt have become the “significant Other” of Egyptians. The prevalent collectivities in Sudan are ethnic groups, nations or “races”, regions and to a lesser extent religion. Any national feelings were almost completely subdued in Sudanese population most particularly since early 1990s when the government of National Islamic Front decided to take Sudanese back to the era of prophet Mohamed and the orthodox caliphs in Medina (Arabian Peninsula). The project of Arabism which the Sudanese state has adopted made segments of the population feel that they were much closer to people in the core Arab countries (e.g. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan) than to other segments with whom they have shared the country and interacted everyday. In Egypt, however, Sudanese are easily distinguishable regardless of whether they are from the Central, Eastern, Northern, Southern or Western Sudan. They are often asked by Egyptians if they are Sudanese or Africans and if they are from the north or the south. The 105 respondents whom I individually interviewed and 74 participants of 15 focus groups stated that they were asked such questions almost everyday. All individuals in focus groups and interviews mentioned that sometimes some Sudanese pretend that they do not know Arabic and Egyptians mistake them for other Africans and there are cases when Sudanese, including 11 of my respondents, misinform Egyptians that they either are Nigerians, Malians, Senegalese, etc. to avoid further discussions with the latter because often when Egyptians find Sudanese they will either stereotype them as lazy people (for the reason that their country has lots of resources) or remind them of Egyptian colonialism in Sudan by telling them that both Egypt and Sudan were under the rule of King Faroug (the nominal King of Egypt and Sudan who was ousted from the throne in 1952 by a group of young military officers). However, the fact that Egyptians developed feelings of superiority vis-à-vis Sudanese goes as back as 1821 when the Ottomans’ governor in Egypt, Mohamed Ali Pasha, invaded most of the territory that includes the present Sudan to capture slaves, to search for the gold and to protect springs of the Nile. However, Egyptians’ feelings of superiority toward Sudanese were suppressed by the economic superiority of Sudanese who used to come to Egypt only for honeymoon, tourism, business, political affairs or study.
However, the sudden influx of Sudanese in Egypt since 1990s has worried most of the Egyptians and awakened in them the dormant feelings of contempt that was generated by the long history of slavery. That is why all respondents in my research experienced several occasions when young male Egyptians mention things like shakshooka (prostitute), samara and/or boongaboonga (black), ibn mitanaka (son of a fucking mother) and so forth. The anger climbed suddenly the 43 years old male respondent’s (SHA) face during the interview when he was telling me that two days ago he saw Egyptian teenagers following an old Sudanese woman (aged between late fifties and early sixties) and shouting shakshooka, shakshooka, shakshooka. 13 respondents mentioned that dirty water was poured on them from the balconies of crowded residential areas and 3 respondents stated that they were hit by young men who ran away when they (the respondents) were talking on paid telephones installed on street sides. Moreover, some Egyptians newspapers described Sudanese as:
They are people who have forgotten that they are guests- refugees, and put themselves above the owners [citizens] of the country. They have committed a series of crimes that can no longer be tolerated. They consume drugs and deal with them in front of everybody. Such activities are disregard for the hospitality that has been offered to them. They drink alcohols in the streets to the extent that they become completely unconscious about everything, sexually harass ladies in the streets, and organize immoral parties which are all disregard for the hospitality. (Hilal et al. 2000: 25)
Hilal et al. (2000: 25-26) continue with their story arguing:
We asked Wail, owner of a shoes factory at Ahmed Sa’aid Street, who says: “These young African men always consume alcohol inside the church and come out to harass women in the street. It happened that I rescued a woman whom they were trying to rape. They usually wear thick belts which they use during the quarrels.” Hussein Sabki also says: “These young men are always accompanied by women and girls and smoke marijuana to the extent that they plant it in the compound of the church and sell it to young men in the neighborhood.” These Africans live in small apartments that are very old because their rent is cheaper. For example, there are about 30 individuals living in a two bedroom apartment with a salon. The apartment is in the building number five at Al-Sharafa Street.
The same newspaper further stated that each ten Sudanese men and women were sleeping in one room which in Arab culture (where a brother or a father does not visit his brother’s or his son’s wife in the latter’s absence) means that they are involved in illegal sexual activities. My own landlord in Ainshams entered twice my interviews room and each time argued that women are not allowed to enter single men’s apartments unless they are accompanied by their husbands. On the other hand, she was very happy and spread the news to neighbors when one of the four men whom I hosted in my apartment brought over his English teacher from Denmark who was volunteering at St. Andrews while she was doing her masters’ fieldwork. As Egyptian culture restricts the meeting between men and women, Egyptian landlords often enter into arguments with their Sudanese tenants because the landlords think that when women visit men’s apartment or vice versa, sexual activity is involved. This does not mean that northern Sudanese Arab and Nubian cultures are more liberal than the Egyptian culture, but I doubt that a Northern Sudanese Arab or Nubian would be as concerned about what his/her tenant is doing with people who visit him/her as to suddenly knock the tenant’s door, enter the apartment and ask the people what they are doing. On the other hand, western and southern Sudanese cultures do not restrict interaction of men and women because sex is regulated through particular cultural codes. Western Sudanese Arab culture is also flexible and it allows men and women to interact freely. Again 56 respondents claimed that Egyptian authorities often side with their citizens when there is a conflict that involves Sudanese and Egyptians. 11 respondents mentioned that there are even occasions when security men stop Sudanese and confiscate their documents unless the latter pay them some money.
In addition to the problems of housing, work, health and the lack of opportunities for vocational training Sudanese are aware that they or their relatives and/or friends are not recognized as “refugees” because Egyptians authorities are playing a strange game of misinforming the international community that Sudanese in Egypt are in their second country and therefore they should not be considered as “refugees” while in Egypt; but at the same time they stamp on their passports or UNHCR cards that they are not allowed to work. The miserable conditions of Sudanese in Egypt have made them not to trust even some Egyptians who might be supportive to them. For example, a 39 year old Egyptian, who is a UNHCR employee and whom I found very supportive to refugees in several occasions, was not allowed to speak in a meeting which included three UNHCR employees (two Egyptians and one Canadian) and members of Peace and Justice Committee at Sacred Heart Church until I convinced those who did not want him to talk to give him a chance to say what he has and they could respond after he would have explained to them what the UNHCR wanted from them.
Moreover, interactions between Sudanese from different parts of the country have become very frequent in Egypt and therefore individuals from different ethnic groups discover more about each other and share few resources available with them. Eight respondents said they took the side of Sudanese whom they did not know in conflicts that involved Sudanese and Egyptians. All the respondents stereotype Egyptians as “ignorant”, “impolite”, “hypocrite”, “dirty”, “cowardly” and “selfish”. I raised some questions to get explanations for these stereotypes and respondents stated the Egyptians knew very little about Sudan and as a result asked Sudanese if there are cars or tall buildings in Sudan. Many of them do not know even the name of the president of Sudan.
One of the questions I asked was: “Why were Sudanese fighting in Sudan since those who came to Cairo do not give an impression that they are members of rival communities in Sudan? In 61 cases the replies indicated that it is the politicians who create rivalries between Sudanese and that the ordinary Sudanese did not have problem with each other. 29 others replied that many Sudanese only discovered when they came to Egypt and were obliged to live together; and 15 respondents argued that it were Arabs who caused problems when we were in Sudan. When I asked if their life in Egypt will provide an example of how Sudanese will live in peace in the future. All of them emphasized it will be the case because Sudanese Arabs who live as refugees in Egypt have discovered their real position in the Arab World. Moreover, it seems that a Sudanese national identity is in the making in Egypt.
However, none of this means that some Egyptians and some Sudanese are not able to establish good relationships. For example, I visited an apartment of a Nuba to see off a young female Nuba who was married to a Jamaican Canadian and was coming to Canada to join her husband. I brought some Maulid (Prophet Mohamed’s birth celebration) candies and cakes so that she could take them to my family in Canada. There were many women inside the room where the bride was packing her luggage. We were about five men sitting in the living room when four Egyptian women came from inside, greeted Mr. MK, the host and the brother in-law of the newly married woman, and went away. I asked MK if the women were Egyptian. He replied positively and added that they were his Egyptian neighbors who came to see off the young woman who was traveling to Canada. “But most of the Sudanese whom I met spoke negatively about Egyptians to the extent that I thought that there would not be such visits taking place between some of them.” I said. “Yes, but you have to impose yourself on them.” He replied. “How do you impose yourself?” I asked. He explained that members of his family impose themselves on members of a neighboring apartment by inviting them on different occasions to visit them during celebrations such as Eid. There are five such examples explaining that the boundaries which exist between Sudanese and Egyptians are penetrable at individual levels.
I individually interviewed 105 respondents and held 15 focus groups with 74 participants during the ten months which I spent in Egypt. Although the proposal suggested that young male refugees have suffered more than other categories of Sudanese refugee population, the fieldwork has concluded that young Sudanese men and women in Cairo are both suffering because most of them do not have regular employment. Many of them are not recognized by UNHCR as refugees. Even those who have refugee status have no material support from the international organization. Among the Sudanese who work in the informal sector such as housekeeping, construction and baby-sitting women are paid better than men. Women’s average payment is 500 pounds Egyptian whereas men’s average payment is 250 pounds. As a result of this situation they resort to resource pooling to survive. Refugees who have a day’s meals share them with those who do not have and those who are able to pay the rent accommodate those who do not afford it until they get jobs or receive money from relatives or friends. For instance among the 105 interviewees only 44 worked, 16 were aided by UNHCR and the rest were supported by relatives, friends or roommates. As a result of the difficult situation, family and friendship networks have become very important for the survival of refugees in Egypt and even for their resettlement abroad (to Australia in particular). The lucky ones who traveled to Australia send sponsorship forms back to their friends and relatives in Egypt. Moreover, the sudden influx of Sudanese in Egypt has led to the rise of Egyptian nationalism which in its turn led to the formation of Sudanese nationalism in exile.
Despite the efforts which the refugees make to survive, the scarcity of resources available to them has led to family breakups, to alcoholism, to addition to drugs and to formation of gangs especially among the people who are aged between 16 and 20 years. However, of 41 respondents in individual interviews who were married 13 were not living with their spouses, one man was widowed because his wife committed suicide in Egypt, five mentioned that they separated, five others were divorced, ten were engaged and 44 were single. The life in the margins of Egyptian society made Sudanese male refugees lose their role of leadership because they are either not working or have smaller wages compared to refugee women. During the interviews I realized refugee children need special research because their parents and relatives mentioned that their children were often locked up in the apartments for long hours because the parents were working. The parents locked them up because they cared for them and they did not want them to be injured or exposed to any danger while they are out playing, going to or coming from school. The schools are based in the compounds of the churches mentioned earlier. However, in some cases those who are not recognized by UNHCR their children are not allowed to be enrolled and many complained that the education offered in some churches is very poor; moreover, most parents often do not have the money to pay for their children’s transportation and the needs for survival at the same time. Given the current employment situation, there appears to be no possibility of integration in the formal economy of Egypt, the research therefore suggests that gathering of Sudanese in a camp at the outskirts of Cairo would have made the task of UNHCR easier and would have drawn the attention of other international organizations which would have provided them with services and would have also reduced the risks of vulnerable Sudanese in Egypt.
In addition to those mentioned above in Section 2a, I should thank Sukkar Jimeijamayel, Ommad Sin and Ommad Guntar (from Darfur); Mohmoud Khareef, Hassabo and Maagne (from Southern Sudan); Soona, Samia and ‘Abdoo (from Khartoum); and Numma (from Madani) without whom this fieldwork would not be successful. They all dedicated their time and effort until this research was completed. I share with these men and women any success in this research and any failure in it is my own responsibility. With the exception of Suna and Hassabo that are real names because they are now in secure places other names are still pseudonyms as they are still in Egypt and need protection.
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