The situation of the non-encamped Syrian refugees in Sudan: By Tarig Misbah Yousif

The situation of the non-encamped Syrian refugees in Sudan: By Tarig Misbah Yousif

12-05-2017, 00:52 AM


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Title: The situation of the non-encamped Syrian refugees in Sudan: By Tarig Misbah Yousif
Author: Tarig Misbah Yousif
Date: 12-05-2017, 00:52 AM

00:52 AM December, 04 2017

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Tarig Misbah Yousif (PHD) is a freelance researcher in the field of forced migration and human displacement. He worked for many years as an aid worker in refugee camps in eastern Sudan. He currently works with Doras Luimini's team overseeing the Syrian Refugee Resettlement Programme in Ireland.

Since 2012, Sudan has become a destination for tens of thousands of Syrian refugees who have been compelled to flee for their lives as a result of the civil war which spread death, destruction and displacement across the whole of the Middle Eastern country. Ironically, Sudan's warm welcome to Syrians comes at a time when rich Gulf countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia are slamming their doors on Syrian refugees.

Syrians who arrive in the Sudan are exempted from the visa requirement, and instead of declaring them as refugees (as the case of other groups of war victims living in the country), the Sudanese government decided to treat Syrians the same way it treats its own nationals. Although the government's decision to consider Syrians as citizens is being portrayed as a gesture of solidarity with Syrians, there seem to be a retaliatory motive, mainly to deny western-based aid organizations the opportunity to take part in the relief operations for Syrians. Less than a decade ago, the government accused these NGOS of orchestrating the indictment of Sudan's president by the ICC for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in the turbulent region of Darfur. A number of western based NGOs were expelled from the country following the arrest warrant issued by the ICC for the Sudanese president back in 2009. If Syrians are declared as refugees, the government believes that western NGOs (with their hidden agenda) will scramble to find a niche for themselves in the country.

It has to be pointed that the South Sudanese refugees who fled the war and sought refuge in Sudan back in 2013 were first declared by the Sudanese government as 'Sudanese nationals', a decision which was met with criticism from aid organizations and commentators (Yousif, 2016). However, and as a result of the increase of the influxes of South Sudanese refugees, mounting pressure from aid agencies has finally forced the government to reverse its previous unsound decision in 2016 and to announce that South Sudanese fleeing the fierce fighting in the fledgling country of South Sudan are to be treated by Sudan as refugees.

This article discusses the consequences of Sudan's decision of not declaring the Syrian war victims as refugees. The article offers some suggestions as to how to address the 'non-encampment' situation of the Syrian refugees in Sudan:-

-The decision hinders rather than helps UNHCR to implement its mandate of protecting and assisting refugees as spelled out in chapter one of the 1950 Statute '…..Providing international protection and ….seeking permanent solutions to the problems of refugees ' (1950 UNHCR's Statute).

That is to say Syrians who sought sanctuary in Sudan do not fall within the mandate of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) which is 'tied up' by the decision and cannot approach donors and make appeals to raise fund in order to meet their basic humanitarian needs. The point is that as long as the Sudanese government considers the Syrian as 'citizens' and does not recognize them as refugees, UNHCR cannot make fundraising appeals in order to assist refugees and find durable solutions to their problems.
- For instance, UNHCR cannot include the Syrian war victims living in Sudan in its refugee resettlement programme which entails transferring refugees to the conventional resettlement countries such as Canada, USA and the Scandinavian countries. If given the opportunity to avail of the resettlement programme from Sudan, Syrians are likely to fulfill an important condition of resettlement which constitutes a significantly important social capital for the resettled refugees. This condition is the presence of the family network and supportive relatives in one of the resettlement countries (if we take into account the spread of Syrians in various parts of the globe). Had Syrian refugees in Sudan been recognized as refugees, many of them could have qualified for the UNHCR-supervised resettlement programme. In my opinion, one of the possible negative consequences of not including the Syrians who wish to live in Europe in the UNHCR-administered resettlement programme, is to force them to fall into the hands of smugglers and to deal with human trafficking criminal gang networks which are active in Sudan, particularly in east Sudan which has become a hub for 'trade in persons' (Yousif, 2015).

- Also, if and when Syrians decide to go home voluntarily, they will not be entitled to assistance from UNHCR, mainly the repatriation package which includes paying for the cost of transport and giving re-integration assistance to the repatriates.
It has to be pointed that UNHCR had a room for maneuver in the past to get around its mandate in order to help the famine victims who fled from Ethiopian back in 1984. Despite the fact that they did not fall within its mandate, UNHCR considered them 'people of concern'. It does seem that is doable again in the case of Syrians refugees.

Reliance on sporadic philanthropic handouts

In the absence of professional refugee-aid organizations such as UNHCR, Syrian refugees in Sudan had to rely on small charities with poor infrastructure such as the Syrian Family Support Association which was set up by Syrian traders. Because they are under-resourced and under-funded, these local NGOs focus on modest activities such as distributing food parcels to some Syrian families in Khartoum. Needless to say, a problem of such magnitude needs well-resourced organizations which are capable of addressing the urgent humanitarian needs of thousands of Syrians living in Khartoum. There is ample anecdotal evidence that Syrians refugees in Sudan suffer economic hardship due to the lack of a regularized and a well-funded humanitarian assistance programme. While I was on a visit to Sudan at the beginning of 2017, it was not uncommon to see some Syrians begging on the street and in mosques. However, the small minority of Syrian refugees who are faring well are those who brought money with them to Khartoum (Faek, and Abdalgalil, 2016). Because the Syrian cuisine is popular in Sudan, Syrians have significantly contributed to the boom in the catering industry as some of them set up their own businesses, mainly opening restaurants on the famous streets in Khartoum such as Shar'a siteen.

Assisting Syrian refugees in a non-encampment setting

Sudan stands a great chance to offer the world a unique model in the field of refugee assistance outside the framework of the prevailing traditional African model of assisting refugees in remote and isolated camps. Nevertheless the first issue which the Sudanese authorities need to address is presenting accurate statistics for the Syrian refugees living in the country. According to some unofficial reports there are an estimated 250,000 Syrian refugees in Sudan (as of 2017). But it is never too late for the Sudanese authorities to come up with accurate figures if they check official records at Khartoum International Airport (the sole entry point for Syrians). Not only will that help in designing good refugee assistance programmes (if the government overturns its decision by declaring Syrians as refugees), but it will also offer a model which can help resolve the conundrum accurate refugee numbers and the 'politics' of statistics for the UN refugee agency which too often builds its refugee assistance programmes on estimated numbers.
Due to the dearth of research on Syrian refugees in Sudan, any assistance programmes should be preceded by carrying out need assessment surveys involving the Syrians themselves as true participants and not as passive recipients of aid. Empirical research involving Syrian refugees is of paramount importance as that can help identify the areas where support is most needed. That will be a key to coming up with some innovative and ingenious programmes with the view of overcoming this awkward predicament via innovative methods of supporting the Syrian refugees who live in the midst of native Sudanese in the capital Khartoum. Rather than burying their head in the sand, the Sudanese government needs to deal realistically with the situation on the ground and has to follow the example of countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan which host millions of Syrian refuges and receive international assistance to help them cope with the situation. For instance, Turkey which ranks 18th in the world (in terms of GDP), received billion of Euros from the EU in order to meet the needs of the Syrian refugees on its soil. The Sudanese government has failed to provide services such as health, sanitation and education to its own citizens, let alone to the strangers, yet it insists on maintaining the status quo vis-a-vis the Syrian refugees.
The fact that the privately-rented accommodation in Khartoum is expensive, some Syrian families were evicted by land lords after failing to pay their rent, and others headed towards the suburbs of Khartoum and had to accept low standard accommodation. The type of intervention needed to address this, would be devising a rental scheme for Syrians or in the likely event of a protracted a stay, building housing compounds for Syrians could be explored as an option. This can help ease the pressure on native citizens who are struggling to cope with the spiraling rise in house and flat rental. Other vital services such as education, health, sanitation should also be supported. Income generating projects for industrious Syrians would be another niche for relief organization.

The Commission of Refugees (COR) which has been charged with the responsibility for designing and implementing refugee policies in Sudan since the 1960s, needs to be supported too. COR suffered greatly when the current regime which came to power over a barrel of a gun back in 1989, wreaked havoc in the Sudanese civil service through its notorious policy of summary dismissal of opponents. A large number of COR's competent staff were fired from their jobs and were replaced by incompetent and inexperienced staff. Spending on tailor-made training schemes is vitally important to bring COR back in the driving seat.


1950 Statute of UNHCR. available at:

Faek, R, and AbdalGalil T. (2016). Young Syrians Take Their Chances in Sudan.
Available at:

Yousif, T.Misbah (2016)-in Arabic. Cessation clause-experiences from Sudan
Available at:؟seq=msgandboard=...andmsg=1455201827andrn=0

Yousif, Tarig (2015). On the Cusp of a crisis: Human trafficking in eastern Sudan. Rights in Exile Newsletter. Available at: