Jordan + 2 more

Sudanese refugees struggle against racism everyday

News and Press Release
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Amman, 18 June 2012 – Hidden amongst the throngs of Amman's population, Sudanese face discrimination on a daily basis.

"It's normal to be called 'Chocolate', 'Abu Samra' or other racist names when we walk in the street. I don't care what they say to me, but what makes me angry is when my children suffer", says Sudanese woman, Iman.

Iman once found her young son covering his arms with flour. When she asked him what he was doing, he answered, "Now I'm white."

Although Sudanese children can access the public schools in Jordan, they still face racism from their teachers and peers.

"My children come home crying on most days, and some of their teachers call them 'Blackie'."

After conducting a survey with Sudanese men and women who benefit from JRS services in Amman, it became clear that as a minority refugee and ethnic group, their daily lives are plagued with fear and discrimination.

Including the Sudanese. Since September 2011 JRS has come into contact with more and more vulnerable Sudanese, and some Somalis, who are almost a forgotten refugee population in Jordan.

Expanding the JRS activities to include the Sudanese and Somalis has been a process that required a lot of creative thinking, commitment and acceptance from JRS staff, volunteers and the more established Iraqi refugee community.

Despite these logistical and cultural challenges, Colin Gilbert, JRS Jordan Director is upbeat about serving the Sudanese.

"The presence of the Sudanese people in JRS activities has really had an uplifting effect on the entire refugee community that we work with," he enthuses.

Responding to refugee needs. The main need expressed by the Sudanese was for English language classes. In response, JRS set up evening classes staffed by volunteers. At present, nearly 120 Sudanese refugees – and some Somalis – attend the classes twice a week.

A concerted effort has been made to reach out to the Sudanese women, who are often illiterate in both English and Arabic. By encouraging women to attend, it means that the children participate too –allowing them to engage in educational activities in a safe and friendly environment.

"Seeing these women progress from not recognising a word or letter to being able to write out simple words and phrases is profoundly powerful", says a volunteer who teaches the literacy class.

The evening classes comprise 80% Sudanese, 8% Somalis and the remainder is a mix of Iraqis and Syrians.

As the violence in Sudan escalates, more and more Sudanese people are seeking asylum in neighbouring countries. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) estimates that tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced since June 2011. Here in Jordan, nearly 750 Sudanese asylum seekers and refugees have registered with UNHCR and in receipt of services.

Once registered with the UNHCR they receive documents which should protect them from deportation or encountering problems with the local police. However, this is often not the case.

Mohammedin, a prominent and long-standing member of the Sudanese community in Jordan, frequently receives calls when someone has been arrested. He then has to mediate on their behalf with the police.

"It's a mix of the police not always understanding the rights of those in receipt of UN documentation, and just discrimination against Sudanese people", says a JRS staff member.

A forgotten population. Many Sudanese have complained that they are excluded from NGO services extended to Iraqis, and more recently, Syrians. Unfortunately, donors have earmarked certain funds for specific refugee populations.

"Because of the media attention and strategic importance of the Middle East, a lot of donor money goes to Iraqis. The war in Sudan has fallen by the wayside, yet Sudanese refugees continue to arrive in Jordan", said Jen Compton, a volunteer who pioneered the JRS evening classes programme.

"Even if it is not meant to be racist, it feels like it is another form of discrimination against us", says Yusuf, a young Sudanese man who works for 12 hours a day and then attends JRS evening classes.

Moreover, as Jordan is not a signatory of the 1951 UN refugee convention, asylum seekers entering the country are received as guests, but are not entitled to access the labour market legally. In the case of Sudanese, they are deemed asylum seekers by UNHCR and are recommended for resettlement to a third country if considered to be in need of international protection. But needing to get by, many refugees find manual day jobs to earn an income.

"It's not the best situation. We work hard all day, are treated badly and then have to often fight for our money at the end of the day because they don't want to pay us", says Yusuf.

With two million Palestinian refugees in the country, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Syrians, it's not likely the situation will change any time soon. JRS teams try to find ways of helping Sudanese refugees cope psychologically with discrimination and promote better relationships with the host community. But for the moment, the only durable and dignified solution is resettlement in the US or western Europe. The problem is even these places are few and far between.

Zerene Haddad, JRS Middle East Communications Officer