Sudan 2: the refugee flow begins in earnest

28 Apr 2023

The conflict continued for another week. A cease-fire was kept for 72 hours—mostly?—and talks are being bandied about. But while there is a possibility of some form of negotiations in the upcoming week (or the next), I am cynical that those talks will end—or even substantially pause— the conflict in the next week. The current fighting began on 4/15 because the two sides failed to reach an agreement after months of negotiations. I estimate weeks—perhaps months—of conflict and violence punctured with sporadic cease-fires.

In the very long-term, the violence will certainly, undoubtedly end, if only because one side will beat the other. But no one knows how “very” the very long-term will turn out to be. Already, lots of people have decided that a “very” that is longer than a few days or a few weeks is too long, and were pulled out—people with “powerful” passports, who were easier to extract (though not without cost or peril). Expats who wished to leave, or were ordered to leave, moved out in a flurry of helicopters, planes and boats, and some sort of behind the scenes pressure was applied to make sure they could leave with a modicum of safety.

For those without such passports, the risk calculus–do I stay or do I go–is more complex. Over a million migrant laborers are working in Sudan. Now, many have decided they can’t wait for the “very long” outcome either. Thousands are seeking to either return to their home country, or to go to another safe haven where they can find work: most seem to be going to Egypt, Chad, and South Sudan. Of the 20,000 that have already fled to Chad, a substantial number (IOM didn’t say exactly how many) were Chadian returnees, who need help to return to their original homes in Chad.

Then there are the Sudanese. Thousands of these, too, are heading across the borders. UNHCR said it expected, in all, that 270k would cross into Chad and South Sudan. They will almost certainly end up in refugee camps near the border. It is an unfortunate fact that they will be less welcome than, say, Ukrainians; there was already an article discussing how the UK said they would not provide “safe routes for Sudan refugees” into the UK, as they did with the Ukrainians.

I dearly hope that aid agencies, churches, denominations, and ministry networks will be reaching out to these clusters of refugees. All are in considerable stress, and many are vulnerable to attack and abuse. While the world is less welcoming to those fleeing danger, it’s time for the church to step up and be the blessing that we are supposed to be. Many of the humanitarian relief agencies have been pulled out of Sudan, but I would guess they will be redirecting to the borders.

Finally, we should remember there are those who, for whatever reason, either choose not to leave or cannot leave at all. Sudan’s population is a little over 45 million; Khartoum’s population alone is around 7 million. For all of the people who leave, millions will remain, and will be in the midst of chaotic situations at great risk of violence, famine, and disease. Sudan is estimated to be between 3 and 5% Christian, about half of these Catholic and many of the rest Protestants: in total, around 1.7 million. The vast majority of these were estimated to be in Khartoum itself. Pray for these.