Apuk, 70 year old grandmother in her home. 

Full story:

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

South Sudanese refugees in Khartoum are still in limbo

Even though she has lived in a displacement camp for the past five years with little food and water, 68-year-old Apuk Bak remains selfless. She is a mother, a grandmother and a women’s leader in the South Sudanese refugee community on the outskirts of Khartoum, the capital of Sudan.

“When I close my eyes to think of a wish, I only dream of serving my community and my family,” Apuk says.

Following South Sudan’s independence in 2011, people of southern Sudanese heritage gained de facto citizenship in their new country. But they automatically lost their rights as Sudanese citizens.

Many, like Apuk, were excited to go to a new nation, but it became a paradise lost. War came to South Sudan in 2013 and the temporary departure sites on the outskirts of Khartoum grew and became informal settlements for refugees.


NRC works to support refugees and displaced people in over 30 countries around the world, including Sudan. Support our work today

Apuk, 70 year old grandmother in her home. 

Full story:

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
Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC
Read caption Apuk Bak inside the informal settlement. Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC

Now, ten years after South Sudan’s independence, displaced people still live with uncertainty in Sudan. Stripped of citizenship and stigmatised, the people living in the informal settlements have been nearly forgotten amid Sudan's revolution and economic challenges. A solution for their situation is yet to be brought up by the Transitional Government of Sudan.

Food shortages

Many people in the displacement sites lack ID cards or birth certificates because of their uncertain legal status. This means they are more susceptible to the financial shocks ripping through Sudan. More than 250,000 people are experiencing extreme food shortages in Khartoum.

It gets harder by the day for refugee families to secure food. Apuk, along with almost 6,000 other refugee and internally displaced families in Khartoum and South Kordufan, receives cash-for-food from the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), thanks to the support from the European Union.

The programme helps refugees buy food – giving priority to households at risk of malnutrition which include pregnant or breastfeeding women, families with more than three young children, and people who have a chronic illness. Each household member receives 5,500 Sudanese pounds per month for four months, which is equal to about 12 US dollars in July 2021.

“The money makes us happy,” Apuk exclaims. “It was the only time since 2013 that every kid had breakfast. They ate until they were full. We did not have to wonder what we would be eating tomorrow.”

Since the conditions for people residing outside the camps are not much better, local families living in the areas hosting the displacement camps are also receiving aid. There are 1,200 local families receiving aid in Khartoum and South Kordofan.

Endless waiting

In 2010, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) set up a voluntary repatriation programme for southern Sudanese people living in Khartoum to travel to their new country. More than 200,000 travelled to assembly points for their journey to a new country.

From 2010 to 2013, around 70,000 people gathered at assembly points and were transferred to South Sudan by air and bus, according to UNHCR. But because there were so many who wanted to relocate, the process took years. And in 2013 South Sudan’s conflict left people like Apuk stranded because it was not safe to travel.

The departure points across Khartoum have gradually evolved into nine displacement sites where South Sudanese people now live as refugees in poor conditions, and receiving irregular aid. The departure points went from sites of hope for a new beginning, to despair and endless waiting.

The entrance to the displacement site where Apuk lives, on the outskirts of Khartoum, is marked by a sand barricade. When South Sudanese refugees first arrived here, they built their own homes out of the only resource they had – mud. As a result, the settlement is a maze of browns. At night there is no electricity.

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
Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC
Read caption Some of the makeshift homes inside the informal settlement site. Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC

Risk of exploitation

South Sudanese refugees have lived here for years, and their struggle to gain proper identification prevents them from joining the formal labour market. Many have been unable to continue their education and have been pushed to work in Sudan’s unregulated shadow economy. Those who do cross these obstacles are left to battle with social stigma when applying for jobs.

With limited jobs available, men in the settlement travel to distant locations in Khartoum to find daily labour. The risk of exploitation and sub-standard working conditions is great. The days are long, and the pay is meagre. Many women clean houses in the host community neighbourhood. Other women sell food or handcrafted products inside the settlement.

“We cannot just sit around waiting to be handed food,” Apuk says. “Our children will become weak and malnourished. We have to find a way to feed the kids.”

Apuk believes it’s important to keep the cash she receives from running out. She plans to spend a portion of it on goods to sell inside the camp to earn a little income.

Apuk, 70 year old grandmother in her home. 

Full story:

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
Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC
Read caption Apuk Bak pictured here with one of her grandchildren. Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC

Currently, NRC is providing legal support for refugees in the open areas so they can join the formal labour market and get better access to education.

Khamisa, a 70-year-old community leader in the open areas, wants to make baskets.  “If the women get the proper handcraft training, we can work together to produce in bulk and sell in the market,” she says.

“If I’d had the proper education, I would never have stayed here. I would have loved to be of real value to my community outside of this complicated situation.”