Background

  • Located in North Africa, Sudan is geographically the largest country in Africa with approximately 1 million square miles (roughly the size of the U.S. east of the Mississippi).
  • Sudan has approximately 34.5 million people from as many as 400 different ethnic groups. The North is dominated by Arabic-speaking Muslims. In the South, at least 100 different languages are spoken, and most southern Sudanese follow indigenous beliefs or have become Christians.
  • Since independence in 1956, Sudan has been at war with itself.
  • Racial tension exists between black southerners and Arab northerners. Religion pits the Muslims in the North against Christians in the South. Northern government forces fight southern rebel forces.
  • There has always been inter-tribal conflict in the South, and the North has fomented more conflict by providing arms.
  • Severe famine and massive displacement in 1983 have further disrupted the country.
  • All sides have been known to commit human rights violations such as conscripting child soldiers and raiding and attacking civilian populations. People are ambushed as they flee, and there seems to be “no safe place.” Most sources agree, however, that the government and its allies bear the largest responsibility for the continual suffering.

Culture and Life in a Refugee Camp

  • The southern Sudanese come from a very patriarchal society, with clearly prescribed roles for men and women. Cooperation within the group is critical, and it is taboo to promote one’s self interest above the community interests.
  • For the Dinka and Nuer, marriages are usually arranged, and dowries play a major role for an entire extended family.
  • Four out of five Sudanese make their living either farming, raising livestock, or both. In southern Sudan, food production is the single activity that absorbs the energy of the people.
  • The civil war has destroyed much of the economy in the South and caused significant loss of people, cattle, and crops.
  • The southern Sudanese diet is similar to that of its African neighbors. Milk, lamb, chicken, rice, and vegetables are key ingredients. Food is often served from a common dish and eaten with flat bread.
  • Although medical care in Sudan is, in principle, free, there are not enough trained professionals, clinics, hospitals, or medicines. Traditional healing arts continue to be practiced. Health care in the South is basically non-existent, and very few people have access to clean water.
  • Many refugees will be coming from either Egypt or Kenya. In Kenya, there are an estimated 66,000 in Kakuma Camp alone. There are also thousands of Sudanese refugees under UNHCR protection in Egypt.
  • In many ways, life in the camp has been like that in any other African village, with the youth living in clusters that serve a family-like function.
  • Since they have lived apart from families for most of their lives, the unaccompanied minors and young adults have not taken part in many of the traditional southern Sudanese cultural traditions.
  • Education has been an important part of refugee assistance in Kakuma, with more than 30 schools serving more than 33,000 students. Child welfare workers note that the Sudanese youth generally have very high expectations about education, which is seen as a “recovery strategy”–a way to take back control over their lives.

Adjusting to Life in America

  • Sudanese refugees may struggle to learn the importance of time and of keeping/making appointments in the U.S.
  • Their expectations are high. A Sudanese worker said that the Priority Two and Unaccompanied Minor refugees “are so used to humanitarian aid and the style of relief workers, that they may think everyone in the U.S. will want to help them, too.”
  • They will need help in setting realistic goals, managing time, making decisions, and maintaining a positive attitude.
  • A Nuer source said the Sudanese do not accept the concept of “no.” Yet, resettlement staff have noted that the Sudanese do learn about the limits imposed on them “when all efforts at negotiation fail.”