"There is no greater sorrow on earth than the loss of one's native
- Euripides 431 B.C.
All of the SAIL students are refugees from the Republic
of the Sudan, in north-east Africa. Sudan borders with the Red Sea, the Central
African Republic, Chad, Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and
Libya. All SAIL students have been forced to take refuge in at least one of
these countries before coming to Australia.
Sudan is the largest country on the African continent and has a population
of 34 million people. This comprises of a wide ethnic mix of some 570
groups. Seventy per cent of the population are Muslims, 25% have indigenous
beliefs and approximately 5% are Christians.
Sudanese SAILors are largely from the south. Despite its vast resources,
Sudan is under developed and bears all the statistical hallmarks of a
country from the Economic South. The average life expectancy is 56. The
infant mortality rate is high at 70/1000 and the average number of children
per woman is 5.47. Only 46% of the population are literate.
Sudan’s colonial past
Sudan became independent in 1956 from both Egypt and the UK after 59 years
of colonial rule. Before independence Southern Sudan received little attention
from the British except to suppress slave trade and tribal warfare. The British
justified this policy by claiming that the south was not ready for exposure
to the modern world. To allow the south to develop, the British closed the
region to the outside world except for a few Arab merchants who controlled
the regions limited commercial activities and bureaucratic activities.
The earliest Christian missionaries were the Verona Fathers, a Roman Catholic
religious order that had become established south before the Mahdiya. Other
missionary groups were the Presbyterians from the US and the Anglican Church
Missionary Society.There was no competition between the missionaries as each
maintained a separate area of influence. The British government eventually
subsidised education in the south. Mission graduates succeeded in gaining
provincial civil service posts and where regarded as tools of British imperialism.
The few southern Sudanese who received higher education were sent to British
East African (present day Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania) rather than Khartoum
(Sudan's capital which is in the north). This exacerbated further the division
between the north and south.
In the 1920s the British Administration detached the south from the rest
of the Sudan and barred northern Sudanese from entering and working in the
south. They also discouraged the spread of Islam in the south.
In the 1930s the British Administration stated that the southern provinces
were considered distinct from the northern Muslims and that the region should
be prepared for eventual integration with British East Africa.
After World War II, some British officers questioned the economic and political
viability of the Southern provinces as separate from the north. Britain has
also become more sensitive to the Arab criticism of the southern policy. In
1946 the Sudan Administrative Conference determined that Sudan should be administered
as one country.
The conference delegates also agreed to readmit northern administrators
in the southern post, abolish trade restrictions, allow southern Sudanese
to seek employment in the north and introduce Arabic as the official administrative
Southern Sudanese resented the imposition of Arabic as the official language
of the administration as it deprived the educated English speaking Southerners
of the opportunity to enter public service. In 1955, southern military units
mutinied at Totil killing several hundred northerners including government
and army officers.
The government quickly suppressed the revolt and eventually executed seventy
southerners. Many rebels fled and disappeared with their weapons. In response,
the southerners formed the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) to topple
Independence and civil war
Sudan has been plagued by civil war since 1956, when it became independent
from both Egypt and the UK after a rule of 59 years. Until the Peace Deal
of 2004, this war is the longest uninterrupted civil war on earth at present.
By the late 1960s, the war had resulted in the deaths of more than 500 000
people. Several thousands more hid in the forest or escaped to refugee camps
in neighbouring countries.
By 1969 rebel forces in the south developed contracts with foreign countries
such as Israel to obtain weapons and supplies while the Soviet Union supplied
the government. In March 1972, the Nemeiri government and Southern Sudan Liberation
Movement (SSLM) signed an accord that gave partial autonomy to the three southern
In addition to the war between north and south, Sudan has also suffered
from inter-tribal warfare between the two largest southern tribes, the Dinka
and the Nuer. This has threatened to split the SPLA.
Sudan has been ruled by an Islamic government since independence in 1956.
The Nimeiri government introduced the Shari’a Law (Islamic Law) in 1983
despite bitter opposition from secular Muslims and Christians in the south.
The growing economic problems, renewed the war in the south and introduction
of the Shari’a Law eventually contributed to Nimeiri’s downfall
in a coup in 1985.
In 1989, a military government came to power after a coup under the command
of Omer Al Bashir. Bashir established the Revolutionary Command Council for
National Salvation to rule Sudan and imposed the Shari’a Law in the
south and supported a military solution over the Sudanese People's Liberation
On January 20, 1991 the legal system was altered to include an English common
law on an Islamic Law base. Since this time the government has been democratically
elected in between three successive coups. A multi-party system was reintroduced
in 1999 but the violence and oppression have continued.
Oil in South Sudan
Unlike North Sudan, the south has a tropical climate. In recent years,
the Sudanese government has cleared wholesale areas of southern Sudan,
and uprooted thousands of mainly Dinka and Nuer people, in order to tap
the vast oil reserves there.
In more recent times, Western oil companies have poured millions of dollars
into Sudan. It has been widely reported that the revenue has greatly assisted
the government in the purchase of weaponry. Amnesty International has condemned
this practice and documented the 'human price of oil' in Sudan: 'a pattern
of indiscriminate killings, torture and rape - committed against people not
taking active part in the hostilities.'
Statistics of war
The civil war has resulted in the deaths of 1.9 million people - one out of
every five southern Sudanese. It has also given rise to the largest displaced
population of any country in the world. 4.4 million Sudanese have left their
homes because of the fighting and of these only 11% have managed to leave
It is estimated that at least 15,000 people, mostly southern women and children,
have been abducted by militiamen and used as slaves in the past decade.
As a result of the country's insecurity, food supply is highly precarious
in southern Sudan. The World Food Program announced recently that 3.2 million
Sudanese were facing serious food and water shortages due to the combined
effects of civil war and drought.
Sudan and Terrorism
Since the late nineties, Sudan has become a centre of attention because of
its "suspected links with al Quaeda members" most especially, Osama
Bin Laden who reportedly resided in northern Sudan for a period before being
banished in 1996.
These suspected links resulted in the United States of America launching
a missile into a "chemical warfare agents factory" in 1998. This
factory later turned out to be a civilian factory producing a significant
share of the pharmaceuticals for the country.
At present, some Sudanese banks are partly frozen because they are suspected
of financing "terrorist cells".
Working towards sustainable peace
On 4th February 2003, the government and the Sudanese People’s Liberation
Movement / Army (SPLM/A) signed a memorandum of understanding for a cease-fire
to end hostilities between the government and different rebel factions in
the south. This enjoyed sporadic success.
After the visit of Colin Powell to Sudan in November 2003, the southern
factions united behind Dr John Gerang (of the SPLA) who then entered the most
comprehensive negotiations with the Northern government that have occurred
since war broke.
As the new year, 2004, dawned a wealth-sharing agreement had been signed
for the substantial oil reserves in the South. The parties have also committed
themselves to a referendum in 2010. The choice for southern Sudanese people
in this process will be for the nation to federate (like Australia) or for
the south to separate.
At Naivasha, Kenya, representatives of the North and South moved closer
to a negotiated settlement. The parties agreed to power sharing measures and
settled a way to resolve tensions in the contested region of Abyei. In 2009,
a final resolution of the wealth of this region will be reached.
At the time of writing, a comprehensive peace deal is expected in August
This is the most recent in a series of attempts in recent years towards
reaching a reconciled ideal. Again the dream of lasting peace seems a
real possibility. The latest steps can be tracked at our affiliate, the
Sudanese Online Research
Outside pressures for sustainable peace
The profile of the conflicts and hardships within Sudan are increasingly brought
to public attention. Alek Wek, supermodel and arguably the most internationally
recognised Southern Sudanese person, is championing increased Western awareness
and concern for the atrocities occurring in Sudan.
It is hoped that increased pressure from outside of Sudan will encourage
all warring factions to reconcile their political and historical differences
and seek a workable and long-lasting agreement that accounts for the wishes
and dreams of all Sudanese people.
The birth of the Sudanese Diaspora
500, 000 Sudanese people were registered as refugees in other countries in
2000. Uganda hosts 180, 000 and Ethiopia, the next largest recipient of Sudanese
refugees, hosts 70, 000. Australia became actively involved in the crisis
in 1992 as a result of the first Human Rights Report tabled by the Australian
At present there are about 8000 Sudanese people living in Australia. As
at 2001, Victoria was host to 1,079 Sudanese refugees. This is a 199% increase
from the 1996 census making it by far the fastest growing ethnic group in
the state (the second largest group are the Somalis who grew 97% in the same
The rapid growth of the community is also being felt in other centres in
Australia causing the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs
to classify the Sudanese community as one of a few Australian communities
that is 'new and emerging'.
Only a small handful of Sudanese arrivals to Australia have been put in
'immigration detention' as so-called 'unlawful non-citizens'. Most of the
Australian Sudanese population have come on a visa subclass 220 - an offshore
This visa entitles holders to permanent residency, onshore family reunification
and eventually, citizenship. This, for most Australian southern Sudanese will
be the first time they have ever held citizenship papers.
Sudan's loss is Australia's gain.
"Refuge has a value beyond price. It is a matter of life itself."