1. Home
  2. Africa

Shared language and religion in Sudan

A long way from home: Syrians in unexpected places

Syrian refugee in Sudan

It’s not surprising that Sudan has become a popular alternative destination for many Syrians. Not only are there regular direct flights between Damascus and Khartoum and no visa requirements, but a shared language and religion can ease the transition.  

According to Sudan’s foreign ministry, more than 60,000 Syrians have settled in the country since the start of Syria’s protracted civil war. The real number is probably considerably higher. A survey conducted by a local NGO in July 2015 found that more than 100,000 Syrians were already living in the country.

Although Sudan does not recognise the Syrians as refugees, they are allowed to work and access state healthcare and education services.

"Syrians are treated in Sudan as citizens, not as refugees," explained Adil Dafallah, from the Sudanese Refugee Commission.

 "It is important to provide them with their basic needs, including health, education and housing."

Many of the new arrivals have nevertheless struggled to adapt to a country where the culture and social norms are foreign and the cost of living high. While some of the wealthier refugees have established their own businesses such as factories and restaurants, often employing other Syrians, those with no wealth or connections are reduced to begging on the streets.

Abdul-Raheem Riyadh, 22, who arrived in the country in 2012, works at a Syrian restaurant in Kafory district. He claims that he was arrested by Sudan’s moral police in September last year, after they found him sitting and chatting with his Sudanese girlfriend at a park in Omdurman. 

He says they were taken to the police station where he was beaten for two hours with sticks. “I have never experienced such a thing in Syria because I was sitting with a woman,” he told IRIN.

According to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, new arrivals often struggle to find houses to rent, schools for their children, and jobs.

“The Syrians are skilled people, and they can find jobs because of that. However, getting a work permit is sometimes a problem for them,” said Amal Dirar of UNHCR. He explained that Sudanese authorities charge a fee of around $500 to apply for a work permit.

Nasra’s family arrived in Khartoum from the Ghouta area on the outskirts of Damascus a month ago. “We were told by Syrians who came here earlier that Sudan is safe and the Sudanese people are kind,” explained the 32-year-old, who now lives in one room with her husband and four children.

Lacking the money to apply for work permits or start a small business, they spend most of their day begging at mosques in Khartoum so that they can pay rent and buy food. “If I only had enough money, I would stop begging and buy equipment to sell Syrian food, but I don’t have any,” Nasra told IRIN.

UNHCR is partnering with a Sudanese NGO, Al Manar, to help Syrian refugees with some of their basic needs. "We offer them medical assistance, money based on the family size, and legal assistance and protection," said the UN agency’s Khadija Agab.

Diaspora groups are also trying to assist recent arrivals. "We help all the Syrian families in Khartoum, especially the ones in need, and ask them to stop begging," said Anas Mohamed, a member of the Syrian Association in Sudan, which in addition to organising social programmes, helps the most vulnerable with money and finding jobs.

“We collect money from the richer ones and give it to the vulnerable ones," said Mohamed, who fled Syria himself three years ago.

Go back to the intro page or see the next feature:

Share this article

Get the day’s top headlines in your inbox every morning

Starting at just $5 a month, you can become a member of The New Humanitarian and receive our premium newsletter, DAWNS Digest.

DAWNS Digest has been the trusted essential morning read for global aid and foreign policy professionals for more than 10 years.

Government, media, global governance organisations, NGOs, academics, and more subscribe to DAWNS to receive the day’s top global headlines of news and analysis in their inboxes every weekday morning.

It’s the perfect way to start your day.

Become a member of The New Humanitarian today and you’ll automatically be subscribed to DAWNS Digest – free of charge.

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.