Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Unwanted Sudanese Fearful of Going Home

Foreign workers are suspected of insurgent attacks but fear persecution if they return to their own country.

Khaleel Ibraheem had planned on leaving Iraq and returning home to the Darfur region of Sudan years ago, having saved up enough money working in construction to get married and buy a house.

But war, first in Iraq and now in Sudan as well, has kept him here. Now, worried he might be targeted for opposing Sudan’s policies in Darfur, he is hesitant even to send letters back home, expecting the government to open and screen the mail.

He used to get contacts of his who were traveling to Sudan to hand deliver letters to his mother, but this method has proved to be difficult. “I don’t know whether she is alive or dead,” Ibraheem, 56. “She has no one except me.”

Ibraheem is among more than 150 Sudanese from the Darfur region, including 25 children, living in a camp of 35 tents near the Jordanian border run by the Iraqi Red Crescent Society.

He and others at the camp say they are reluctant to go home because of the fighting in the Darfur region, which has killed an estimated 200,000 people over the past two years and has displaced as many as 2.5 million. But they also fear what the government might do to them because they advocate a peaceful resolution rather than military action in Darfur. They worry they will be handed over to Sudanese intelligence agents and imprisoned if they travel to Arab countries in the region.

And they say the situation in Iraq is not much better. Before coming to the camp, they lived under suspicion that they had come to Iraq to fight the government as part of the insurgency. Now the Baghdad authorities won’t let them leave the camp, and other countries don’t seem willing to take them.

Ibraheem Muhammed Ali, who runs the camp for the Red Crescent Society, said he expects its population to increase as residents encourage relatives in Iraq to join them, since it is safer there than where they’re living.

Many of the Sudanese came to Iraq in 1988, following the war with Iran, to work in the construction industry. They hoped to save up money and transfer it to banks in Sudan. But when Iraq’s war with Kuwait started, their plans were put on hold. Most of the workers had saved the equivalent of 60,000 US dollars.

While they waited for the right time to transfer their money, the situation at home deteriorated, so they decided to stay longer in Iraq. Some started families. Five of the male residents married women from Basra and were working at an ice factory in Tikrit before coming to the camp.

The fighting that engulfed Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government brought new problems, as some of the foreign fighters who have come into Iraq are Sudanese. “They didn’t live in Iraq. If they had, they wouldn’t have done this to the Iraqi people,” said Othman Muhammed, 38, a camp resident. “They tarnished the image of the Sudanese community in Iraq.”

Now Iraqi police and army units often arrest Sudanese people on sight and without question, assuming that they are involved in the fighting, he said.

Because of the pressures they’ve faced, many have decided to leave Iraq, “We got into Iraq respectably to help it during the Iraq-Iran war and have to leave it respectably,” said Hasan Abdullah al-Sudani.

A group of Sudanese headed to the Jordanian border, planning to go from there to any third country that would take them. But Jordanian authorities denied them entry visas, forcing them to return, but they did so illegally.

“These Sudanese weren’t given entry visas when they came back,” said Sameeer al-Jubouri, an Iraqi border official. “They are now viewed by the Iraqi government as infiltrators.” Because of this, al-Jubouri said, the Sudanese are not allowed to leave the camp.

Even if they were allowed to go back to Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq, al-Sudani said many wouldn’t want to, “How can the government protect us when it can’t protect itself?”

The camp residents met with members of both the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Democratic Party and appealed to them for help. “We must pay attention to the three million Iraqi homeless inside Iraq. After that we will find a solution to your problem,” al-Sudani said his group was told.

The Sudanese have also contacted the United Nations and the International Organisation for Migration for help, said Ali.

“We don’t think about the future, we only think about security,” said Muhammed al-Sudani. “We appeal to all humanitarian organisations to find us a solution as soon as possible.”

Each night, 20 of the Sudanese provide security for the camp. “We expect that the Sudanese government will send a group of agents to kill us,” said Hasan Abdullah al-Sudani.

Nameer Hussein al-Rubai’i is an IWPR trainee.

As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.

The effects are proving particularly acute in countries already under stress - whether ethnic division, economic uncertainty, active conflict or a lethal combination of all three.

Our unparalleled local networks, often operating in extremely challenging conditions, look at how the crisis is affecting governance, civil liberties and freedoms as well as assessing policy responses to tackle the virus.