Anglo Woku never imagined he would be considered a refugee in Sudan in his twilight years. Especially since he left the Southern part of the country for a better life almost 50 years ago.
“I escaped in 1969, shortly after the civil war broke out. I ended up in Khartoum. I was working for the military. I was married, had a family and friends. Sudan gave me a good life,” he said.
The conflict between North and South raged on for 22 years until a peace agreement was brokered in 2005. Then in 2011, the people of the South voted for independence and South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, was born.
This new dawn however caused all sorts of legal uncertainties for the South Sudanese living in Sudan, particularly in the years following independence.
“I lost my Sudanese identity,” Anglo, 78, explained: “I went from being a public servant to a refugee.”
In 2011 following the independence of South Sudan, Sudan passed laws that had a detrimental impact on the identity of people with Southern heritage.
They automatically lost their Sudanese nationality and were now considered South Sudanese. Even their children, despite being born and raised in Sudan, were given a new nationality. Many people had no intention of returning to South Sudan, a country, largely unknown to them and this created a legal dilemma on questions around their legal status. 
Under the Four Freedoms agreement signed in 2012 between the government of South Sudan and Sudan, South Sudanese were to be granted freedom of movement, residence, economic activity and the right to acquire and dispose property. They were also awarded prima facie refugee status, however the legal status of those who lost their Sudanese identity following the cessation, but with no intention of returning, remains unclear.
Some however made the decision to leave for South Sudan both spontaneously or with the assistance of the UN through facilitated returns.
As part of the organised returns, those willing to repatriate were assembled at departure points. However, in 2013, conflict erupted in South Sudan and the operation was stalled leaving thousands of South Sudanese in limbo and stuck in departure points, to this day.
These departure points, now known as Open Areas, are home to over 31,000 South Sudanese living in nine Open Areas across Khartoum. Anglo is among those languishing in these areas with no rights or access to a decent standard of living.
While registration efforts continue, it is estimated that there are around 154,700 refugees living in nine Open Areas including Um Badda, Jabal Aulya and Sharq El Nile across Khartoum state. They make up approximately 55 per cent of the overall South Sudanese refugee population and are among the most vulnerable members of Sudanese society.
Life is tough in the Open Areas and thousands have limited access to food, water, healthcare or livelihoods. 
“I found myself jobless and homeless with no rights, no identification and I have been here ever since,” Anglo revealed further.
Fondly known as ´the Sultan´, the name given to well-respected leaders in the community, Anglo went from the upper echelons of Sudanese society to being exiled to a dusty, sparce flat land called Nivasha on the edge of Khartoum’s city limits. 
He and thousands more live an invisible existence here, virtually hidden from the rest of the Sudanese population who struggle on with life in a country buckled by years of oppression, debt, government corruption, international sanctions, recurrent drought-related famines and humanitarian chaos. Out of sight and out of mind seems to the policy for urban refugees in modern day Khartoum.
“I did not want to become a refugee. I worked hard as a citizen but this happened. My children have moved back to South Sudan, but my wife is here. My children have jobs and they are safe. We had planned to move back there but there is no way out now. I have no money and we are struck here.”
Like several others, Anglo is a trapped in an administrative quagmire that no organization or agency has the full funding, capacity or support to resolve.
The Commission for Refugees is the body mandated to manage refugee affairs in-country including registration and refugee status determination. It is funded by UNHCR, which maintains a supervisory role, is currently dealing with a backlog on registration. Access to documentation remains a key challenge for all unregistered refugees. Biometric registration is ongoing however it will take time before the backlog is cleared.
The winter sun is setting as we arrive at Nivasha settlement and paints a golden syrupy hue over the far out and forgotten community.
Terra cotta-coloured cuboid homes line the vicinity like blocks on a Tetris game. Curious heads peep out from glassless windows of makeshift shops, indicating some market infrastructure but nowhere near enough to serve the disadvantaged population.
Bells tinkle from under the throats of overburdened donkeys carrying the only available water to the residents. A teenage boy rides on top and raises his thumbs to smile as the camera flashes and lights up the expansive area that will soon be in plunged into darkness.
There is limited electric, running water, and food scarcity plays constantly on the minds of mothers desperate to feed their growing children.
“There is no food,” said 70-year-old grandmother Apuk.
“We are constantly hungry. I have never known hunger until I came to these settlements,” she said.
A handful of local agencies including WFP offer humanitarian assistance to the 11,000 people of the settlement but there are virtually no income-generating activities available to provide a sustainable away from a reliance on aid.
As a result, many residents venture into the nearest neighbourhoods or markets for daily work opportunities. Men find casual labour while the women find cleaning or housekeeping jobs.
“My daughter when she gets work, provides around 50 Sudanese pounds per day (less than a dollar). If we get money, we get a meal once a day. But if she finds no work, we have to search for food in the night to ensure the children get something to eat,” Apuk said.
“We often come home with nothing.”
Like many vulnerable communities around the world, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a crippling economic effect on people fiercely reliant on daily labour wages.
Restrictions and lockdowns forced the city to close and dried up the only work opportunities available to men and women living hand to mouth. The cash-dependent people of Nivasha are no different to the cash-dependents of Naples, Nairobi or New York. Pandemic poverty affects all.
With no adequate health or sanitation facilities around, Nivasha is a welcome host for coronavirus among other diseases. And if anyone is sick, there is no ambulance to take them to a hospital. The nearest hospital is miles away and the only way to travel is an expensive and unaffordable taxi or motorbike ride.
With the recent inflation rate, certain food commodities such as red meat, dairy products and fish are also expensive. Everything is expensive in economically-fragile Sudan.
As Anglo points out, people need more than subsidies to be able to afford to eat, they need opportunity.
“This land is good. It can be productive for food with the use of small backyard land, but the community does not have the support to start food production activities,” he explained.
“If they had their own vegetables, they could eat them and sell them. There are many women here that are farmers. They know what to do. They would like to start farms or shops.”
Apuk reveals that she grew up on a farm in South Sudan and remembers her young life well.
“We had a good life. We had food, plenty to eat. We were fishermen. I miss the taste of fish, I used to eat it every day,” she smiled.
“I feel safe in Sudan but I just want my children to eat. I want them to have some life. I am old but they are not. I have lived and worked in Sudan, but I would like my community to live better,” she said.
Anglo admits life is not what he expected it to turn out but finds comfort in the many friends he has found in the community. As he talks, several men of various ages gather around him in a brotherly circle. “He is a good man,” says George Allam Lolika-Khalil, the Sultan of another camp, “he cares for the community. He tries to make things right for us especially the children.”
Anglo believes that with the new democratic government, Sudan has the potential to grow but he would like to see the refugee community better served and no longer forgotten.
“If they don´t provide livelihood opportunities or training. We will just waste away. We are now known as refugees but many of us have lived here all our life and we just want to continue living without struggling. We just want to feel settled in the country we have always called home,” he said.

Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC
Sudan

Living in limbo

Anglo Woku never imagined he would be living as a refugee in Sudan in his twilight years. Especially since he left the southern part of the country for a better life almost 50 years ago.

“I escaped in 1969, shortly after the civil war broke out. I ended up in Khartoum. I was working for the military. I was married, had a family and friends. Sudan gave me a good life,” he said.

The conflict between north and south raged for 22 years until a peace agreement was brokered in 2005. Then in 2011, the people of the south voted for independence and South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, was born.

“I lost my Sudanese identity”

This new dawn, however, caused all sorts of legal uncertainties for the South Sudanese living in Sudan, particularly in the years following independence.

“I lost my Sudanese identity,” Anglo, 78, explains. “I went from being a public servant to a refugee.”

After South Sudan became independent, Sudan passed new laws. People with southern heritage automatically lost their Sudanese nationality and were now considered South Sudanese. Even their children, despite being born and raised in Sudan, were given a new nationality.

Many people had no intention of moving to South Sudan, a country largely unknown to them. Others decided to return to their new homeland.

As part of a programme of organised returns, those willing to repatriate were assembled at departure points. However, in 2013, conflict erupted in South Sudan and the operation was put on hold, leaving thousands of South Sudanese in limbo.

These departure points, known as “Open Areas”, are now home to over 150,000 South Sudanese refugees across Khartoum state. They make up over half the overall South Sudanese refugee population and are among the most vulnerable members of Sudanese society.

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Read caption The so-called “Open Areas” are now home to over 150,000 South Sudanese refugees across Khartoum state. Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC

An invisible existence

Anglo is among those languishing in an Open Area with no rights and no access to a decent standard of living.

“I found myself jobless and homeless with no rights or identification, and I have been here ever since,” he explains.

Fondly known as “the Sultan”, the name given to well-respected leaders in the community, Anglo went from the upper echelons of Sudanese society to being exiled to a dusty, flat land called Nivasha on the edge of Khartoum’s city limits.

I did not want to become a refugee. I worked hard as a citizen, but then this happened.
Anglo Woku

Anglo and thousands more live an invisible existence here, hidden from the rest of the Sudanese population who struggle on with life in a country buckled by years of oppression, debt, corruption, sanctions, drought and humanitarian chaos.

“I did not want to become a refugee,” he says. “I worked hard as a citizen, but then this happened. My children have moved back to South Sudan, but my wife is here. My children have jobs and they are safe. We had planned to move back there but there is no way out now. I have no money and we are stuck here.”

Like many others, Anglo is a trapped in an administrative quagmire that no organisation has the funding, capacity or support to resolve. The Commission for Refugees is dealing with a backlog on registration – and access to documentation remains a challenge for all unregistered refugees.

Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC
Read caption Nivasha settlement was bathed in winter sunlight when we visited this forgotten community in December 2020. Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC

“We are constantly hungry”

We met Anglo and other South Sudanese refugees on a recent trip to Nivasha settlement.

The winter sun was setting as we arrived, painting a golden hue over this forgotten community.

Terracotta-coloured cuboid homes line the streets. Curious heads peep out from glassless windows of makeshift shops, indicating some market infrastructure but nowhere near enough to serve the population.

Overburdened donkeys carry the only available water to the residents. There is limited electricity, and food scarcity plays constantly on the minds of mothers desperate to feed their growing children.

We are constantly hungry. I have never known hunger until I came to these settlements.
Apuk

“There is no food,” 70-year-old grandmother Apuk told us. “We are constantly hungry. I have never known hunger until I came to these settlements.”

A handful of local agencies including the World Food Programme offer humanitarian assistance to the 11,000 inhabitants of the settlement. But there are virtually no income-generating activities to provide a way out of a reliance on aid.

As a result, many residents venture into the nearest neighbourhoods or markets in search of work. Men typically find casual labour while the women find cleaning or housekeeping jobs.

“My daughter, when she gets work, provides around 50 Sudanese pounds per day [less than 1 US dollar]. If we get money, we get a meal once a day. But if she finds no work, we have to search for food in the night to ensure the children get something to eat,” Apuk says.

“We often come home with nothing.”

Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC
Read caption Apuk, 70, grew up on a farm in South Sudan and remembers her young life well. Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC

People need opportunities, not subsidies

As in many vulnerable communities around the world, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a crippling economic effect on the people here, who are mostly reliant on daily labour wages.

Restrictions and lockdowns forced the nearby city to close and dried up the only work opportunities available.

With no adequate health or sanitation facilities, Nivasha is defenceless against coronavirus and other diseases. And if anyone is sick, there is no ambulance to take them to a hospital. The nearest hospital is miles away and the only way to travel is an expensive taxi or motorbike ride.

There are many women here that are farmers. They know what to do.
Anglo Woku

With the recent inflation rate, food has also become more expensive. Everything is expensive in economically fragile Sudan. And as Anglo points out, people need more than subsidies to be able to eat, they need opportunities.

“This land is good. It could be productive for food with the use of small backyard land, but the community does not have the support to start food production activities,” he explains.

“If they had their own vegetables, they could eat them and sell them. There are many women here that are farmers. They know what to do. They would like to start farms or shops.”

“We just want to feel settled”

Apuk reveals that she grew up on a farm in South Sudan and remembers her young life well.

“We had a good life. We had food, plenty to eat. We were fishermen. I miss the taste of fish, I used to eat it every day,” she smiles.

“I feel safe in Sudan but I just want my children to eat. I want them to have some life. I am old but they are not. I have lived and worked in Sudan, but I would like my community to live better.”

George Allam Lolika-Khalil, one of the so-called sultans in the Nivasha open areas where refugees from South Sudan are living. 

Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC
Read caption George is the “Sultan” of one of the Open Area settlements, and is good friends with Anglo. Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC

Anglo admits life has not turned out the way he expected, but he finds comfort in the many friends he has made in the community. As he talks, several men of various ages gather around him in a brotherly circle.

“He is a good man,” says George Allam Lolika-Khalil, the “Sultan” of another camp. “He cares for the community. He tries to make things right for us, especially the children.”

Anglo believes that with the new democratic government, Sudan has the potential to grow. But he would like to see the refugee community better served and no longer forgotten.

“If they don’t provide livelihood opportunities or training, we will just waste away. We are now known as refugees but many of us have lived here all our life and we just want to continue living without struggling,” says Anglo.

“We just want to feel settled in the country we have always called home.”

Read more about our work in Sudan