They have lived, studied and worked together for decades, but now, ten months into South Sudan’s independence, Sudanese from both sides of what was once Africa’s largest nation have found themselves at a forced parting of the ways.
On April 8, Sudan’s government revoked southerners’ citizenships, officially announcing them as foreigners and declaring them security threats. With negotiations between the two countries stagnant following clashes over the oil-rich area of Heglig, many southerners are now faced with the threat of statelessness.
The government initially announced May 5 as the deadline for South Sudanese to leave the country. This was not a straightforward possibility for many, however, and earlier this month thousands found themselves stranded in the city of Kosti in White Nile state facing dire living conditions. On May 14 then, the governments of Sudan and South Sudan, in collaboration with International Organisation for Migration, organised a humanitarian airlift which brought hundreds of South Sudanese to Juba via Khartoum.
Many South Sudanese in Sudan are enraged at their sudden loss of citizenship.
Sokhon B, like many, has spent his entire life in Khartoum. It is where he was born, educated, worked and has established strong friendships. “I can’t imagine giving up my life here” he told Think Africa Press. “My dad passed away and my mum left for Juba in 2005. I decided to stay. I have only been to Juba once in my life, and it is very different to Khartoum…I went to Juba for work, but everything was so unfamiliar to me. I stayed there for a few weeks, but I missed my friends and my life in Khartoum.”
Aguil L, a South Sudanese activist, similarly explained: “We are all Sudanese. Both sides shouldn’t be forcing citizens to leave. The people have suffered enough and both countries need each other and their citizens working together for a prosperous future. For border areas it would be great – though a dream – to have free movement like they do between Tanzania and Kenya for the Massai. For other areas it should be EU style; citizens should be able to live and work in both countries.”
Some who spoke to Think Africa Press, however, seemed to have taken the news of their deportation with a degree of optimism. William J said: “It will be the onset of a new life for me…All I do here is work, eat and sleep. Even when I try to have some harmless fun by drinking a little I end up spending the night in jail. I don’t want this life anymore”. He continued: “Going to Juba will allow me to enjoy myself and perhaps finally find the woman of my dreams”.
Over the past two decades, much of Sudan’s media has been promoting tribalism. With the wide distribution of notoriously racist newspapers such as Al-Intibaha, intolerance has grown in the country, driving a wedge between the peoples of the two nations. Such newspapers have been campaigning regularly for the deportation of southerners and reinforcing the Sudanese government’s claims that the presence of southerners in the country poses a security threat.
There has also been violence between different groups in Sudan. On April 21, for example, Mohamed Abdelkarim, a well-known Islamic preacher in Khartoum, called on his followers to destroy a church complex the day after South Sudan pulled out of Heglig. The following day, a mob marched into a church complex, tore down walls, burned bibles, ransacked buildings and looted possessions.
Many Sudanese citizens, however, are highly frustrated at their government’s decision to deport southern Sudanese and see it as an illegitimate move. “It is technically illegal, because citizenship in any country has nothing to do, or should have nothing to do with ethnicity,” remarked political commentator Moez A.
“The fact of the matter is that both countries don’t want to take responsibility for these people because the south does not want more people to take care of, and the north is doing it in an attempt to get back at the southerners for voting for secession,” he said, adding, “the worst part is that the casualties have nothing to do with either government, just poor people trying to survive. They should be given a choice of returning, not forced to return.”
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