Home | Comment & Analysis    Saturday 21 July 2007

The “below fourth class” Sudanese refugees

By Ahmed El Zobier

July 19, 2007 — To paraphrase Salman Rushdie memorable words about the British Empire : Sudan has never cleansed itself of the filth of slavery; it’s still there, breeding lice and vermin and waiting for unscrupulous people to exploit it.One of these unscrupulous people is Professor Hassan Makki, a self-proclaimed "intellectual" and a committed racist who has described the IDP camps around Khartoum as a dangerous black-belt zone. In an interview last week with Al Jazeera TV about the Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel, he said, "They are not even second or third or fourth class Sudanese, they are below that".
So who are these "below fourth class" Sudanese? Makki’s fanatical Islamist colleague, the Interior Minister Zubair Bashir Taha, clarified this in his statement last week when he said that the infiltrators to Israel come from South Sudan (40%), the Darfur region (35%), and Nuba Mountains (25%). He also pledged to prosecute the refugees when they returned.

Of course the percentages of refugees and their origins are not surprising. Decribed by Hassan Makki as "below fourth class", they all come from Darfur, Southern Sudan and Nuba Mountain, where they have been the victims of systematic dehumanization ever since the independence of Sudan and have been brutalized by the many civil wars in the country, especially during Islamist rule. They are undoubtedly the victims of a culture that has mastered the art of deception and the technique of blaming the victims themselves. Nevertheless, they are the lucky ones who have escaped a life that would otherwise make them just nameless figures and statistics among the millions who have died in those wars.

The Interior Minister also said, "Israel is encouraging his country’s citizens to immigrate to Israel to tarnish Khartoum’s image". I think he deliberately understates his own clique’s capability. Sudan’s rulers need no help from someone outside the country to tarnish what’s left of its image; at least he should have acknowledged the skills of his own party colleagues and given them credit for being very efficient image tarnishing operators.

I think a simple formula could be adopted if he wanted asylum seekers not to be encouraged by Israel, as he appears to believe. He should convince his colleagues in the National Congress Party to stop killing innocent people when they peacefully protest, to stop the mass killing in Darfur, to stop the continuous persecution and harassment of Sudanese people. To create an atmosphere that respects the dignity and promotes equal cultural, social, economic and political opportunities for all Sudanese. I hope he succeeds in adopting the formula otherwise he only has his colleagues to blame for forcing Sudanese to claim asylum, even in Israel.

The news of Sudanese claiming asylum in Israel has spread fast, with many leading commentators in Sudan daily newspapers blaming the Government for the crisis. However, the reaction of many other Northern Sudanese is typical, especially those participating in online discussions on alarabiya.net (the very popular discussion board of the Al Arabia TV network). Some claimed that these refugees are not really Sudanese. Someone else suggested that they could be Sudanese Darfurians and he wanted all Darfurians to go to Israel because they are not wanted in Sudan "because they don’t look like us Northerners". Someone else suggested that these are all Chadians claming to be Sudanese, and to his horror they are also tarnishing the Sudanese image in the Arab world.

Unfortunately, most of the Sudanese participants in the debate are either in complete denial about the refugees being Sudanese, or say that if they are Sudanese they are from Darfur and so are not truly Sudanese (i.e. "Arab like us").

Francis Deng noted in his book War of Visions that this tendency of Northern Sudanese to exaggerate Arabism and Islam and to look down on the blacks as slaves, is "a deep-seated inferiority complex, or, to put it in reverse, a superiority complex as a compensational device for their obvious marginality as Arabs". This could explain why some of the online participants tried hard to clarify to the alarabiya.net audience that "these are not truly Sudanese". I think the key to understanding how Arab racism operates (this could be a topic for another article) is to understand the psychology of its victims who in this case are Northern Sudanese. It leads the victims themselves to believe in the idea of their own inferiority. The online participants then react in a defensive way by disassociating themselves from their fellow citizens in order to please the alarabiya.net audience, where the majority of its Arab participants could not be bothered with the Sudanese contributors’ futile attempts to argue their case. The Arabs are in a mocking mode and some of them are plainly racist against all Sudanese in general.

Although the behavior of the Israeli state and its persecution of the Palestinians is objectionable and abhorrent, it is also fair to say that it’s the only state in the region to have a transparent democratic political system. The whole affair is paradoxical and ironic, where Muslims are fleeing from supposedly Islamic countries seeking protection from a Jewish state which is considered by many Arabs and Muslims to be enemy number one, and the embodiment of all evil in the world. The painful truth is that the people are fleeing oppression and totalitarianism and the Sudanese asylum seekers have voted with their feet. Although, in addition to the complex and tragic Palestinian issue, Israel is not a paradise and has its own racial hierarchy and system of discrimination, compared to the desert of inhumanity in the region around it, it could easily be described as an oasis.

So, why don’t they want to go back to Sudan? The news of recent weeks is not encouraging, although the country supposedly has a new constitution and a new Peace Agreement including a bill of rights, the government continually violates these rights. A few weeks ago it killed five people for demonstrating peacefully against Kajabr Dam, they also killed and injured more than 15 people in Kassala in Eastern Sudan, they arrested four journalists in Khartoum and a number of human rights activist including Dr Mohammed Jalal Hashim. This week they arrested Mr. Ali Mahamoud Hussinen from the Unionist Democratic Party; on Saturday 14 July they arrested the leader of the Umma Reform and Renewal opposition party, Mr. Mubarak al Fadil al-Mahdi. Freedom of expression is restricted with all the draconian laws of the old regime still intact, public order law is still active, and employment throughout the country in both the private or public sectors is under the control of the NCP and their cronies.

Why then are Sudanese Asylum seekers desperately fleeing Egypt? The BBC reported in late 2005 that 2,000 Sudanese had been protesting for three months, in a camp site in Cairo outside the UNHCR office, against their living conditions in Egypt, demanding to be resettled in a third country.

According to various news media on 31 December thousands of police wielding truncheons and firing water cannon at protesters stormed the Cairo camp and as a result 25 refugees died and many were injured.

As usual the Human Rights organization UNHCR, the Secretary General of the UN, and many other organizations condemned the Egyptian police behavior, but after a while the plight of the Sudanese refugees in Egypt has been forgotten, as if they’d vanished into thin air. But in reality they are still there, living in Egypt in very miserable conditions and facing continuous harassment and racism from police and the unsympathetic public.

I was quite touched by the contrasting images and attitudes when I read about the response of the local people towards the refugees in Israel. Haaretz (an Israeli daily newspaper) reported that local Jerusalem residents brought food for the refugees, as did members of Mair Panim, a philanthropic organization, and Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski instructed medical teams and social workers to help the refugees. University students in Be’er Sheva have also been bringing food and searching for housing and employment for the asylum seekers.

I have no doubt that the Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel or anywhere else, will return to Sudan when they feel they will be treated as human beings with dignity and respect in their own country.

Unfortunately, this country at the moment is hijacked by extremely deluded psychopaths who cannot acknowledge responsibility for anything, be it the mass killings in Darfur or killing innocent people protesting peacefully against a Dam project – it’s a sickness that we desperately and urgently need to be cured of before they wipe this country and its people from the map of Africa. Even if our Sudanese Armageddon occurred, of course it would not be their fault, it would always be somebody else’s fault, and the culprit according to their fantasy would most likely be "them".

* Ahmed Elzobier, is a Sudan Tribune. journalist He can be reached at ahmed.elzobir@gmail.com.