Jordan’s Sudanese Refugees: ‘We are tired’

As the UN prepares to host the first summit on refugees and migrants, Sudanese refugees say they have been long ignored.

Sudanese refugees from Darfur sit near their tent in an open-ended sit-in in outside the UNHCR office, demanding better treatment and acceleration of their relocation, in Amman
Allowing more spots for Sudanese resettlement would be crucial to improving the lives of the refugees, says Fisher [Muhammad Hamed/ Reuters]

Amman  Every day since Khalda Khater, 25, and her family fled Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region five years ago, she has been waiting to leave Jordan.

“We ran from war, but I would rather die than live here like this,” Khater said as she held up her refugee certificate issued by the UN High Commission for Refugees, the UNHCR.

“Just send me anywhere else but here.”

Khater and her family are among roughly 3,000 UNHCR-registered Sudanese refugees in Jordan, a majority of whom are from Darfur region. A recent Human Rights Watch report found that violence in the benighted region is at its highest point since 2004.

In December 2015, the Jordanian government deported nearly 600 Sudanese refugees after they protested against their living conditions outside the UNHCR headquarters. A government spokesman said at the time that the Sudanese refugees were deported because they entered the country with fake medical visas.

Human Rights Watch, however, said that the majority of protesters were registered refugees.

READ MORE: Sudanese refugees nervous after deportation from Jordan

As the United Nations General Assembly is expected to host its first Summit on Refugees and Migrants on Monday to address the large-scale movement of people all over the world, Sudanese refugees in Jordan – a co-host of the summit – say the UNHCR has ignored them for too long in the country, where they face racial discrimination.

Sometimes there's food, sometimes there isn't. We go to organisations. They tell us:'For Syrians only'. They pick and choose who to give money to.

by Khalda Khatar, 25, Sudanese refugee

According to Ninitte Kelley, the director of UNHCR’s liaison office in New York, although the summit is dedicated to large movements of refugees, discussions will also address small concentrations of refugees who are part of larger movements, such as Sudanese refugees in Jordan. She added that UNHCR gives the Sudanese [refugees] parity with other refugee groups.

“UNHCR addresses the needs of refugees regardless of how numerous they are in a host country,” Kelley said. “Sudanese refugees in Jordan in need of international protection are persons of UNHCR’s concern and are entitled to and receive equal treatment by the Office,” she told Al Jazeera.

But on the ground in Jordan, Sudanese refugees tell a different story. Many believe their resettlement cases are being processed more slowly than other groups of refugees. Many also complain that they are not receiving the same amount of monthly cash aid.

Paul Stromberg, the UNHCR’s deputy representative in Jordan, says the organisation decides the amount of aid allocated to refugees based on home visits.

“After each assessment, UNHCR employees measure each family or individual situation against the general norm and then, based on the resources available, decides whether to provide assistance, and if so, how much,” Stromberg told Al Jazeera.

Khater, who has two young children, said a UNHCR representative visited her home twice; once in May 2015 and a second time in May 2016. Khater’s family was rejected as a candidate for monthly cash assistance, she said.

The UNHCR representative informed them of the rejection on the phone when Khater’s husband called one week after the second visit. They were not given a reason for the rejection, she added.


Mohammad Abayad, 31, is another Sudanese refugee from Darfur. He says the organisation has visited his home once and has allotted him only one payment of $100 in the nearly three years he has lived in Jordan. 

Abayad earns money by transporting stone on construction sites in Amman, but he – like most refugees in the country – cannot work legally. Their UNHCR refugee certificates do not give them the right to work in the country.

Work permission is only given by the Jordanian authorities.

Sudanese refugees are an easy target for labour inspectors because of their skin colour. Abayad says that he had to run from the police on several occasions to avoid arrest.

Khater said she had to remove her eight-year-old son from school for a year because he was repeatedly bullied. Other refugees say they have been victims of racially motivated attacks, have been called names or have had vegetables thrown at them in the street.

Adam Coggle, a Human Rights Watch researcher based in Amman, said most Sudanese refugees have to band together and pay rent because of the lack of humanitarian assistance available to them.

He added that the greatest issue facing Sudanese refugees is maintaining a livelihood in Jordan.

Khater agrees. “Sometimes there’s food, sometimes there isn’t,” Khater said. “We go to organisations. They tell us: ‘For Syrians only’. They pick and choose who to give money to.”

 The greatest issue for Sudanese refugees is maintaining a livelihood in Jordan, says Coggle [Muhammad Hamed/Reuters]
 The greatest issue for Sudanese refugees is maintaining a livelihood in Jordan, says Coggle [Muhammad Hamed/Reuters]
At the UN summit, member states are expected to adopt a 22-page “outcome document”, also known as the New York Declaration. The document lists commitments that countries can agree on as a whole to assist refugees. The New York Declaration holds promise for an improvement in conditions in host countries but without any guarantees. 

For instance, it calls on host governments to open their labour markets to refugees, it does not, however, specify the conditions of work or require any host governments to issue work permits to refugees. The declaration also encourages more countries to open their doors to refugees, provide access to education for every refugee child, and to increase the level of humanitarian assistance to refugees.

But again, it offers no guarantees.

Displacement continues to affect Sudan’s Darfur

The International Organisation for Migration, which will be present at the summit’s opening session, said it will work to ensure world leaders and organisations address issues facing all migrants and refugees.

“We’re not entrusted to one particular large movement, or one particular set of migrants or refugees. We’re going to stand up and speak for all of them, including those smaller groups,” said Olivia Headon, associate migration officer at the IOM office of the permanent observer to the UN.

UNCHR Jordan says it has submitted 57 resettlement cases for Sudanese refugees since the beginning of 2016, and the goal is to resettle 157 Sudanese refugees this year, or 7 percent of all registered refugees.

Stromberg, of the UNHCR office in Jordan, said this was proportionately a much higher resettlement number than the number of Syrians who are being resettled. “If you look at the absolute numbers, it looks like many more Syrians are being moved,” he explained. “But it’s something that’s hard to say when people are frustrated, to say you are better off in percentage terms, but it is a fact.”

WATCH: Sudanese refugees struggle to survive in Jordan

According to Betsy Fisher, policy director at the International Refugee Assistance Project, allowing more spots for Sudanese resettlement would be crucial to improving the lives of the refugees.


The United States is the only country that accepts Sudanese refugees from the Middle East as part of its standard refugee resettlement programme,”so having options in other places that would be willing to resettle when there are really urgent vulnerabilities or protection threats would make an immense difference,” Fisher said.

“I think it’s definitely high-time for further discussion about this group and what we as an international community will do to give them a long-term solution,” she told Al Jazeera.

At an August 2016 press conference, Karen Abu-Zayed, special adviser on the Summit for Refugees and Migrants, said she hoped everyone at the summit would embrace the New York Declaration “to ensure that no refugee and no migrant is left behind”. 

Meanwhile, as Khater watched her children play outside their small apartment in a working-class neighbourhood in East Amman, she, too, hoped something might be done to improve her family’s life in the country.
“We’re tired,” she said. “We just want to be somewhere else, somewhere where we are respected as humans.”

Source: Al Jazeera