Refugees fled from Sudan to Egypt following widespread violence in their mother country. Following the Darfur crisis caused by both the First and the Second Civil War, Sudanese have been persecuted causing them to flee for their safety. The First and the Second Civil War happened in different times in history in Sudan. Indeed, the most significant number of refugees in Egypt is made up of Sudanese refugees. The civil war was mainly as a result of differences in tribal culture and religious division between the inhabitants of Sudan in the North and South. Nonetheless, the entry of Sudanese refugees into Egypt has been met with resistance from the host country. Being a predominantly Arab and Muslim country, the refugees have faced hostile conditions in Egypt. Egypt as a nation has been hostile to black-skinned immigrants or refugees in the country with reported instances of violence and killing of the refugees. As a self-defense mechanism, Sudanese refugees have organized themselves into violent gangs in a bid to protect themselves from the hostile inhabitants of Egypt who are bent on attacking them. This paper focuses on Sudanese refugees in Egypt and the hostile environment they find themselves in. In this endeavor, this paper shall start by providing background of the situation in Sudan that prompted their fleeing into Egypt. In this respect, the paper shall review the first and the Second Civil War with a view to shedding light on the reasons attending the fleeing of the refugees. In the next section, this paper shall examine the situation in Egypt and the response of the refugees towards the hostile environment they met. In this respect, the paper shall explore the formation of violent gangs by the refugees as well as the incidents that occurred in Egypt.
Civil war between the North and the South Sudan raged from the year 1955, with a short hiatus between the years 1972-1982 standing out as the longest civil strife in the world. As a result, over one million people have been killed whereas over 5 million persons displaced from their homes or country. Over half a million of victims of the violence have fled into other countries such as Kenya, Chad and Egypt. Around 24,000 Sudanese refugees have fled into Egypt, in what has been touted as the most significant humanitarian crisis in world history. Some of the reasons attending the big influx of the refugees to Egypt than any other country include the presence of the UNHCR in the country which provides assistance to them, and their good infrastructure network. It is argued that geo-political calculations have been at the kernel of the whole conflict between the North and South. The North of Sudan which makes up roughly two thirds of the total land in Sudan consists of Muslims who are also Arab speakers. Conversely, the South is dominated by indigenous Africans of a black race and culture, the Christian religion and an orientation tending to the West. Though Christianity preceded Islam in northern Sudan, it was taken over by Islam by the turn of the 16th Century. It must, however, be set out clearly that the two parts: North and South Sudan have ever since seceded and are now independent countries with own government.
The civil war between the North and the South has been partly as a result of the North trying to spread its religion and language to the South of Sudan. However, this move has been continuously resisted by the Southerners. On the other hand, southern Sudan has constantly resisted the move by the North thereby resulting in a unity amongst the Southerners in resistance to the imposition of Arab and Islamic religion. Following the attainment of independence in the year 1956, the government, which was dominated by people from the North started a move to Islamize and Arabize the South. In their quest to do this, the government in Khartoum believed that their civilization was superior and that the same would have the effect of fostering national unity.
The First Civil War (1955-1972)
The first civil war that created violence leading to fleeing of persons into other countries started in the year 1955 just a year before the attainment of independence. This civil war reigned until the year 1972 when the South was granted regional autonomy following the signing of the Addis Ababa agreement. In September 1983, the then president, Ja’far Muhammad Nuymari passed a decree which imposed Sharia as the sacred law of the land. The move led to increased tensions which later exploded into a conflict between the government and rebels from the South of Sudan. The government in Khartoum then abrogated the Addis Ababa agreement in the year 1983 thus causing a renewal of the ugly conflict that had hitherto characterized the nation. While abrogating this agreement, the government also divided the nation into three regions, imposed sharia law in the country and reduced the powers of the regional governments. In response to this, the South waged war under the aegis of the Sudan’ People Liberation Movement and a military wing known as the Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army.
The Second Civil War (1983-2005)
The other incident that led to violence that caused the fleeing of refugees into Egypt in a significant way was the Second Civil War that began from the year 1983 to the year 2005. This war was mainly a continuation of the first Civil War which had ended in the year 1972 and lasted for a period of 22 years. At least four million people have been displaced at least once or repeatedly in the period of the civil war. Though the second civil war is believed to have begun in Southern Sudan following extreme ethno-religious conflicts between Christians and Muslims, it has emerged over the past few decades that this has changed. It has become clear that the civil war has also been as a result of the battle for resources that have been discovered both in the North and in South. One of the significant sources of conflict was the decision by the Sudanese government to introduce unfair trading laws relating to the exploration of oil, water and land. The government had favored the North in this exploration despite the fact that most of these resources were situated in the South. Further, agriculture of sorghum, cotton and sesame which was a significant economic activity for the southern Sudanese people did not benefit them. All the profits that accrued from agriculture went to the Northern Sudanese elite thereby increasing division and conflict between the North and the South. As a result of conflicts emerging from the First and the Second Civil War, there arose the Darfur crisis where vulnerable women and children fled into Egypt in search of better opportunities and to evade the killings that were in their nation.
As at April the year 2013, there were around 7,000 Sudanese refugees in Cairo, Egypt. The refugees moved into Egypt in escape from the civil strife in their country. They made their way into Egypt with the hope of getting assistance from the United Nations in Egypt. Though it is true that Egypt opens its borders to the refugees, it does not provide the much needed assistance to the refugees owing to its own growing population. Egypt has been in violation of its international human rights obligations as encapsulated in international law. Some of the rights the Egyptian government is guilty of denying the refugees include education, employment and the freedom of movement. This is evidence of the glaring social injustices that are meted on the refugees. Indeed, refugees from Sudan have faced hostile conditions upon entry in Egypt such as lack of access to employment coupled with racial segregation. The moment that these refugees set their foot in Egypt, it takes years for the United Nations to investigate and process every claim of the refugee so as to accord them refugee status, which is a precursor to their obtaining assistance. Before attaining the refugee status, refugees are forced to live in difficult conditions with no access to housing, education or health care.
When Sudanese refugees gathered in the Mohandessen square to revolt against the dilatory move by the United Nations Commission for Human Rights (UNCHR) to grant them a refugee status, the Egyptian police attended violence to them in a bid to disperse the sit-in that they had staged. The revolt was a demonstration of the loss of assistance provided by the UNCHR agency of the United Nations. The refugees had sought to make their voice known on what they considered a dilatory move by the agency in granting them refugee status. It was also a show of masculine identity of the Sudanese refugees. Owing to the hostile conditions that faced the Sudanese refugees as demonstrated in this paper, the refugees formed violent gangs so as to protect themselves from the enemies.
Violent gangs made of Sudanese refugees youths arose after the Mohandessen incident of the year 2005 who unleashed violence, a development that challenged assistance providers and refugee advocates. It also reshaped the preexisting concepts of social systems. The formation of these violent gangs could have been a way to find expression and a disapproval of the notions of life that the refugees lived in Cairo, Egypt. This behavior of the youth gangs that emerged must be seen to emanate from a network of relationships and other social structures that support these gang members. Questions then emerge as to the reason for the formation of violent gangs. The mass demonstration that was done by refugees in the year 2005 was dispersed in a violent manner by Egyptian police. The demonstration consisted of thousands of participants and sought to address a number of valid grievances which had been documented. Top among the list of grievances includes the lack of employment, education and housing. Nonetheless, the Egyptian police dispersed them from holding the demonstration resulting in several deaths and causing injury through the brutality of the police. Without doubt, this development had a direct effect on the psycho-social state of the Sudanese refugees and was definitely a significant component of the rise of violent youth gangs.
It should also be set out that initially, youth gangs emerged to serve only a few limited purposes of a social nature. These gangs were mainly meant to create networks of youth which would enable them to cooperate and throw parties and plan other social functions. The gangs in Cairo, Egypt who are mainly made up of the male gender adopt fashion trends and other gestures so as to identify with the young, strong, successful, black males who talk about their experiences of poverty, disrespect and other ills in resistance to forces that are bent on dividing and oppressing them. The clear identification with Western hip-hop culture and artists is a clear testimony to the fact that the young refugees have rejected both the Egyptian and the Sudanese culture of which they are supposed to identify with. It need also be borne in mind that the emergence of gangs was a creative process on the part of the youth to give room for deviance from the established norms and hierarchies. This is also as a result of the sheer inability of the community to realize common goals and solve chronic problems afflicting the society.
Younger generations in Egypt of the Sudanese refugees normally mature without getting an opportunity of fulfilling meaningful social roles and other gender based responsibilities due to their situation. Humanitarian organizations such as the UNCHR take the position of the provider which is predominantly the role of a man in the cultural setting of the refugees, thereby seriously undermining the established systems of social authority. Consequently, it is the case that the male refugees fail to assume their traditional male roles upon attaining puberty and are unable to attain the position of getting a sustainable livelihood. This position is also rendered untenable owing to the situation in Egypt which restricts the refugees from gaining any gainful employment. Further, refugees and asylum seekers lose faith in the institutions resident in Egypt of their ability to cause a positive change in their lives after several years of little or no change. This position has led to a rise in opposition which has been reflected by the formation of youth gangs. The emergence of youth gangs in Cairo, Egypt among the Sudanese refugees had been in a bid to assert control and pride in the face of circumstances of displacement. As such, it may well be said that gangs in Egypt have provided an alternative to realize authority through new conceptions of strength and social order.
The gangs of the Sudanese youth are loud, violent and territorial. The gang members are usually armed with dangerous weapons and over five gang related deaths were reported in the year 2007. A factor that helps mask the activities of these gangs is their operation in much wealthier towns which have a high level percentage of foreigners such as the upscale Maadi District. An example of the gang in operation is the killing of a 25 year old leader of one of the gangs in Cairo known as Lost Boys. The leader, named Mathok was stabbed to death by suspected members of the rival gang known as the Outlaws in Abbasiya while going home with a friend. Between the Outlaws and the Lost Boys gang groups, there are an estimated 400 members. As already noted in this paper, the gangs derive their names from rap groups in the United States from where they are said to have a common dream. Other smaller gangs of Sudanese refugees in Egypt include California, Five Girls, Notorious B.I.G, P2K, Steel Dog and the Big Twelve. Most of the gang members are males aged between the ages of 16 to 28 though there a few females who take up the role of gang trophies.
These gangs are defined by their features which mimic the African-American rap culture of rap music, sagged jeans, sports shoes and baseball caps. A development in the year 2006 involved the hiring of local microbuses by the gang when heading to attack. It is however, noteworthy that in their attacks, these gang members usually have no definite goal. In these attacks, several people including Sudanese have been injured and a few others died. A case in point is the 2006 killing of 24 year old Maliah Bekam just outside the American University of Cairo (AUC) by a rival gang named Lost Boys. The gang members hacked at his skull using machetes as a revenge measure against the decision by members of the rival gang Outlaws of giving names of their members to the authorities.
Although some violence has been directed by youth gangs mostly against other youth gangs, the same is only a pro-active resistance to the powerlessness and frustration that permeates the lives of Sudanese refugees in Egypt. However, the increasing cases of violence between the gangs pose a security threat to a larger chunk of the refugee population. As demonstrated earlier in this discourse, the Sudanese Refugee community in Cairo Egypt is large and of a significant diversity. Youths affiliated to gangs only represents a small percentage of the whole and is surely no representation of the whole young Sudanese refugees. They tend to challenge the mainstream thinking of the nature of life of the refugees by trying to depict a reassertion of control whereas this is not the case.
In conclusion, it may be said that violence by gangs within the refugee community or emanating from the community is disturbing and puts at risk the security of the refugees. Nonetheless, the same offers an opportunity for policy makers and academics to clearly appreciate the experiences and the possible consequences of protracted negotiations or circumstances.
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