Egypt (MNN) – Egypt has been a host country for Sudanese refugees for generations. The reason people have fled to Egypt has varied from war, internal conflict, and persecution. However, it seems that the social environment in Egypt is less and less welcoming, both to Sudanese nationals, and Christians.
Today, people continue to be displaced by fighting between the Sudanese government and rebel movements in the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile. For Christians, the reason for fleeing Sudan is two-fold. Not only are they getting out of the way of conflict, they’re usually fleeing religious persecution, too. But now, it seems that their refuge presents dangers of its own.
The following report comes from one of our partners who is elbow deep in helping exiled pastors in Egypt. Sharing this information is risky because of the security concerns in that part of the world. And yet, the story of Sudanese exiles needs to be told. Therefore, our partner is not named. The events reportedly happened at the end of December:
I have several reports of over 300 Sudanese taken to the local police station on Thursday night. Last I heard no reason was given. I’ve been told that in several cases the police broke down people’s doors to get into their [apartments]. I have heard that of these, approximately 165 Sudanese were taken to the police station from 10th district in Nasr City, I believe the rest are from other areas of Nasr City in Cairo.
Previously the police were rounding up Sudanese and checking on their visas and then would release them after a few days if everything was fine. In this case we don’t know the reason. I have heard about 25 were released on Friday after their names were recorded.
Of those taken to the police station many are refugees with UN ID cards. One of those in one of the police stations is a pastor who is a refugee with ID card and visa and a stamp that he is a pastor.
Perhaps others have been released now but I have just heard that the problem is continuing with others being arrested. I just heard of a friend’s nephew (age 13) who was taken to the police station. The boy’s mother went to present the boy’s ID and was taken to the station as well. When the uncle went, he was also taken in for 24h and beaten.
I have also heard that 165 minors, age 12 and under were taken to the ministry of interior offices to check their paperwork.
Additionally, our partner explains that the road to resettlement into safer countries is difficult. And many Christians perceive that the resettlement system favors Muslims over them as they wait years to hear back about their paperwork being processed.
According to some, Sudanese refugees are already well overlooked in this process given the two nations’ complicated history. The lack of news on these events seems to suggest just how low the Sudanese refugees fall in Egyptian society.
In Egypt: threats, arrests, and no hope for the future
We spoke with a couple of believers who have faced this hostile environment head-on. A translator helped to share the stories of Faisal and Philemon. They said that these conditions have threatened the unity of the Sudanese Church living in Egypt. Part of this is because there are so many different nationalities who are living temporarily in Egypt. Secondly, there is growing fear for many of the believers to even attend worship.
“Even the churches are giving reports to governments. And so, they’re kind of colluding with the government. And even the police sometimes even come to the church or into the church to arrest people,” Faisal says.
So, why come to Egypt when they are clearly unwelcome? Faisal says simply, “This is the closest country that [we] can come to.”
Philemon explains, “Most of these refugees that are here in this area that are being affected are from the Nuba Mountains in Sudan and they come from Khartoum and they can’t go back to the Nuba Mountains because there’s the people’s rebel movement in the Nuba Mountains. And the government has kind of cut off the road to the Nuba Mountains, and if you try to go back, they assume that you are related to what they consider the rebel movement and they will kill you on the way.”
So as much as they feel unwelcome in Egypt, it doesn’t compare to the dangers at home.
“It is for religious reasons because their area of Sudan—the Nuba Mountains – is a Christian area, and the government in Khartoum is saying that North Sudan is now a Muslim country, and they don’t want Christians. And even if you want to get an ID in Sudan, you have to use a Muslim name,” Faisal says.
He believes the recent mass arrests in Egypt is focused on people who have submitted applications to the UN. Those who have applied for refugee status and to be resettled elsewhere are often abused; if not physically, verbally. Faisal says it is a scare tactic to try to get the Sudanese nationals from leaving. Other nationalities, he says, do not receive the same treatment.
The men draw our attention to another concern, explaining that once imprisoned, women are often targets of sexual abuse. When they are released, all they can do is cry; but their husbands understand what happened. As a result, these women are absolutely terrified of the police.
Both of the men have their own arrest stories:
The translator shares Faisal’s story: “He went once to the police station because he had relatives inside. And they arrested him and took him into the police station and they were beating him. And the police officer told him that was beating him that ‘We’re not scared of the States. The States can’t do anything to us. And the States doesn’t want to accept you. They don’t want you. We’re not scared.’”
After this, he called an emergency line to the UN and was told there was nothing to be done. He says he knows many people who have filed their applications with the UN in 2016. When they go to inquire about it, they are told something similar: either that they are not wanted in a host country like the United States, or that their paperwork is still being reviewed.
Philemon’s story is similar. He went to the police station after his wife was arrested. He was searched and the police found his rent money. They told him he could either leave the money with them, or they’d start a court case against him.
There wasn’t much of a choice, so Philemon surrendered the rent money and went home to see his kids.
The translator explains, “When he got home, his kids said ‘No, we need to pray so that there’s a way that mom can get out of the police station.’”
Even after being a target of such abuse, Philemon’s attitude is this: “Like the Bible says, it says to love our enemies. And so we try.”
You can be praying for believers to have the courage to keep gathering together in worship. Ask God to change the attitude the police and government have towards these exiles. Faisal says they are praying for the government, for Egypt, and for the people of Egypt. They trust that God will be faithful and that even in the dark times, there will be blessing and hope.
“We just pray that God will be kind to us. We don’t have a future here in Egypt. Our children don’t have a future here. We don’t have a future in Sudan. If we go back to Sudan, we could die. And the UN doesn’t always help us with our problems. And so, there’s nothing we can do except to pray.”