The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) operation in Sudan started almost 50 years ago in Gedaref State. Today, the general humanitarian situation in Sudan is a complex mix of asylum seekers, refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), Sudanese refugee returnees and IDP returnees. Sudan is also a source, transit and destination country for mixed migratory population movements. There is also high incidence of statelessness or potential statelessness that requires UNHCR’s engagement.
Sudan is a state party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, as well as the 1969 Organization of African Unity (OAU) Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee problems in Africa. Sudan has entered a reservation in relation to Article 26 (Freedom of Movement), which has become the basis of its encampment policy. In 2014, Sudan adopted a new national law on refugees, the Asylum (Organization) Act, replacing the previous Regulation of Asylum Act, 1974. Although not fully reflective of Sudan’s obligations under international treaties on asylum, the new Act contains several positive aspects, including the recognition of the three durable solutions of voluntary repatriation, local integration through naturalization and resettlement to third countries.
Sudan also applies the Arab/Islamic notions of asylum with respect to some refugee nationalities. Currently this is applied to Syrian, Yemeni, Iraqi and Palestinian nationals.
Refugees of these nationalities are allowed to enter and remain in the country and are notionally treated as nationals in terms of freedom of movement, choice of residence and access to social amenities, including health and education. Access to employment is also substantively easier for refugees of these nationalities.
UNHCR supports the Government of Sudan to fulfill its obligations under international and regional treaties on asylum, and other national laws that impact the protection and wellbeing of persons of concern in Sudan. UNHCR is also a part of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) response to internal displacement in Sudan. This part of UNHCR’s extended mandate is also referenced in the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD). UNHCR has responsibility for the Protection Sector and the Emergency Shelter and Non-Food-Item (ES/NFI)
Sector. The Camp Management and Coordination sector has not been activated in Sudan.
The phenomenon of mixed migration continues to be a major area of engagement for UNHCR in Sudan to ensure that asylum-seekers and refugees caught in these movements have access to asylum procedures in the country. Approximately 70 per cent of new arrivals who end up in Shagarab Reception Centre in Kassala move onward before they are registered by the Government of Sudan’s Commission for Refugees (COR) and UNHCR.
Under the 2014 Asylum (Organization) Act, COR oversees the implementation of Sudan’s obligations under international treaties on asylum and national legislation. COR’s mandate falls under the overall responsibility of the Minister of Interior. UNHCR continues to build the capacity of COR to manage reception, registration and refugee status determination (RSD), as well as the protection coordination and camp management aspects of the refugee response.
COR is UNHCR’s governmental counterpart in Sudan, through which all policy development and the coordination of protection and other assistance to refugees goes. Collaboration with the National Information Security Service (NISS) and the Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) remains of critical importance, especially at the state level in order to ensure smooth implementation of programming, both directly and through implementing partners. UNHCR also works with relevant line ministries (particularly the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Water Resources, Irrigation and Electricity) to ensure sectoral assistance activities are harmonized and in compliance with national protocols. This is especially relevant for the South Sudanese refugee response, where UNHCR’s cooperation and dialogue with state level authorities (i.e., Governors’ offices and state-level ministries) is essential because an estimated 80 per cent of refugees are living outside of camps in self-settlements that are largely integrated within Sudanese villages and towns, and access to services is largely streamlined through public systems. COR retains an overview of all refugee coordination and assistance issues, as per the provisions of the 2014 Asylum (Organization) Act.
A key protection concern is that refugees and asylum seekers are often subject to harassment, imprisonment and threats of deportation, which necessitates interventions by UNHCR.
Additionally, the prevention of and response to sexual- and gender-based violence (SGBV) ishighly sensitive and challenging to implement in Sudan.
The gains made from Sudan’s National Dialogue and the United States of America (US)
Government’s decision to revoke the sanctions against Sudan3 are likely over time to contribute to expected to a more conducive political, security and economic environment. This may eventually create conditions that are favourable for achieving higher levels of economic selfreliance, with better protection safeguards for refugees. However, Sudan has embarked upon a new structural adjustment programme in December 2017 which has led to rapid destabilization of the economy, including inflation of the Sudanese Pound (SDG), fuel shortages and import restrictions that have slowed the delivery of goods and services, as well as movements to and from the field. According to the World Food Programme (WFP), the price of sorghum (Sudan’s main staple) increased by 47 per cent across Sudan from the last week in December 2017 to the end of January 2018. Consequently, only 1 per cent of refugees can afford the local food basket. Limited livelihood opportunities makes the situation challenging for refugees, especially those living in out-of-camp areas, with an increased risk of tensions with host communities and risks to the safety and wellbeing of refugees.