Download this publication

This paper discusses the living conditions of the so called “arrivals,”{1} South Sudanese refugees in Sudan, most of whom now reside in the White Nile State (58 %) and in Khartoum (23 %), and the rest of which live in different parts of Sudan. The focus of this paper, however, is on those who live in the White Nile State. It is no longer possible to apply the conventional perspectives used in refugee studies to understand the complex situation of South Sudanese “arrivals” in Sudan. It is also not possible to apply the terms usually used to describe and define refugees, IDPs, asylum seekers, the stateless, and “other people of concern,” to analyze the conditions of these “arrivals,” as they do not fall in any of these categories. Repatriation, resettlement, and reintegration are not possible solutions in the case of the South Sudanese refugees as they may be for other categories. Unlike the handling of straightforward cases of refugees, the international community does not have any laws or means to pressure or sanction either the Sudan or South Sudan governments for their treatment of the “arrivals.” This is so because there is no recognized international definition of “arrivals” and no standard international procedures to apply in such unprecedented circumstances. This could be viewed as a symptom of the worldwide shift from a humanitarian attitude towards refugees (typical of the post-WWII era) to a political and, subsequently, security-driven one due to the explosion, in the 1990s and until now, of the refugee phenomenon (Malkki 1995). Sudan and South Sudan are acting very much the same way other countries, and particularly European countries, do. European countries, in fact, have not set up generally agreed upon rules and measures to collectively deal with refugee issues up to now; they singularly adopt a political stance that guarantees the security of their societies and national borders instead.

The recording of the conditions that brought the “arrivals” in Sudan{2} has no precedent in the literature on refugees. There are a number of factors that can explain the phenomenon. The most important of them is globalization. The new global dynamics have compressed time and space and weakened barriers between countries for the passage of capital, commodities, ideas, and, to a lesser degree, human beings (specifically labor). On the one hand, the strength of national sovereignty and controls (especially of the developing countries) have largely been reduced, while internal and regional conflicts have significantly increased. On the other hand, the current capitalist system led by the U.S. is running into difficulties that might bring about its total collapse, and hence the rise of new world structures or systems. The outcome of the previous dynamics and factors is manifested in a wide, international population mobility and re-drawing of the demographic map. The old rules of the game guaranteeing the stability of the world since WWII appear to have lost much of their efficacy. It should not come as a surprise that every country pursues its own interests and strives to protect its political, social, and cultural security and identity.{3}

The argument here is simply that it will not be possible to understand the present situation of the refugees in general, and that of the South Sudanese “arrivals” in particular, without locating the issue within the larger framework of international population mobility. In any case, it is the refugees, however they may be defined, who suffer the burdens of the changing international circumstances. New global perspectives have to be pursued in order to address the emerging refugee issue. No country, however, seems to care about them; and the international community does not appear to be ready to provide them with proper protection and sound solutions.


{1} This is a term used by the Sudan Government. Why the Sudan Government has opted to use the term “arrivals” rather than “refugees” for this category of individuals will be explained further in this paper.

{2} The only case that might be somewhat similar to that of Sudan is East Timor. For a comparison between South Sudanese refugees and East Timorese refer to Krista Davina (2014) and UNHCR (2002).

{3} The latest withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union could be seen as the beginning of this process.