Sudan (MNN) — They work long hours in “unofficial” jobs for low pay. They are hesitant to send their children to public schools for fear of bullying and abuse. They share small apartments in groups of eight to ten. For Sudanese refugees living in Cairo, Egypt, life is not what they hoped for when they fled genocide and an economic crisis in their home country.
Bonita Dirk with Nuba Mountains Bible Institute in Cairo (NBIC) explains: “Officially, the laws of Egypt are you have to have nine or ten Egyptian employees for every foreign employee. On some rare occasions, [Sudanese refugees] are officially employed. But most of the time, they are working [in] unofficial employment. They don’t get much assistance from the government or even from the UN. There is very little official assistance. But they can survive. So it’s a little bit better [than Sudan], but it’s not at all what they were expecting.”
Refugees started fleeing from Sudan to Egypt around 20 years ago when civil war overtook Sudan. Non-Arab and African tribal groups were targeted by the Muslim majority, especially in areas like Darfur. Because Egypt and Sudan used to be one kingdom a long time ago and still share a common language, some Sudanese see Egypt as the best place to escape.
Then, after Sudan and South Sudan split, Sudan placed a tax on the Nuba Mountains region. As a result, more people fled.
“There is estimated to be between one and three million Sudanese in Cairo,” Dirk explains. “Most of them are refugees, not all. But Cairo is a city of 25 million, so that means almost one in ten or ten percent are Sudanese.”
Today, refugees in Egypt are torn. They could go back home to Sudan if they save enough money, but the social and economic climate in Sudan has not improved. However, staying in Egypt is not ideal either, since Sudanese often suffer discrimination and public harassment.
Some Egyptians don’t even realize the Sudanese among them are refugees. Since the two countries share a border, Egyptians view Sudanese as simply coming and going, and they would rather the Sudanese stay in their own country.
Dirk says the lack of awareness and aid is “partly because people have no idea of what has happened and is happening in Sudan. There were a lot of foreigners that were pushed out of Sudan a couple years ago and so it is very difficult to actually find out what is going on in Sudan itself. People have no idea that the conflict and the issues are ongoing in Sudan.
“Then, Egypt is a developing country on its own. The Egyptian government can’t afford to help the Sudanese very much because they are trying to help their own population. There are more visible issues in [global] news, and Sudan is not one of them.”
For Sudanese Christians living in Egypt, life is even harder. Being Sudanese already makes them a second-class citizen, but being Christian makes them a third-class citizen, ostracized by both Egyptians and majority-Muslims alike.
This is where the local Church in Egypt is stepping in when they can. Some Christian groups provide refugee services, operate medical clinics, and help Sudanese refugees find jobs.
However, Dirk says there is only so much they can do. “There are different ministries, but they are mostly small, local churches doing little bits and pieces.”
NBIC sees the value of a growing and thriving Church among the Sudanese diaspora in Cairo. That’s why NBIC trains Sudanese Christian leaders to spiritually encourage and instruct the Sudanese Church there.
“I really believe that God cares about the least, the last, and the lost and the people that are forgotten,” Dirk reflects. “The Bible talks a lot about widows and orphans, and there are a lot of those amongst the Sudanese refugee population. I feel privileged that I get to work amongst a people group that is kind of a bit forgotten in the world, but [which] God has not forgotten. I think that’s a real clear Gospel opportunity to love our Christian brothers and sisters and our non-Christian brothers and sisters that are often forgotten.”
Dirk says raising awareness and standing in solidarity with our Christian Sudanese brothers and sisters in Egypt goes a long way.
“Try to find bits of news on Sudan. There are really good websites like Nuba Reports. There is an amazing hospital in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan where there is only one doctor for a population of a million people.”
Finally, she asks, “Pray, pray, pray. Remember them. Remember that you have Christian brothers and sisters all over the world and a lot of them are suffering, but they still love God and are pursuing Him. Lift them up in your prayers. Seek out opportunities to encourage and support and give to good organizations.”
Header photo courtesy of Open Doors USA.