The Sudanese Community
Of the four communities, the Sudanese are the most organized and have waged a public struggle against national and international institutions over the past decade. According to UNHCR figures, last updated in 2020, there are 2,263 Sudanese nationals registered in Lebanon (633 designated as refugees, 1,603 as asylum-seekers, and 5 as “others of concern”). They began arriving in Lebanon in the late 1990s, entering in punctuated intervals matching periods of instability and war in Sudan.
The story of Safa, a 21-year-old Sudanese woman born in Lebanon, tells of the difficulties the community faces. Safa’s parents arrived in Lebanon in the late 1990s, and had their case files opened by the UNHCR office in Beirut in 2000, the year Safa was born. A few years later, both of their files were inexplicably closed. In 2013, desperate to register their children so they can get an education, Safa’s parents, along with many members of the Sudanese community, started protesting in front of the UNHCR offices. The public pressure seems to have worked. The case files of Safa’s mother’s were reopened in 2013, and her and the children were formally registered as refugees in October 2015. Her father’s case file, however, remains closed.
Being recognized as refugees enabled the family to enroll their daughters in school and receive modest financial support, around L.L. 100,000 per month, but this was insufficient. Safa’s mother was ill, and aid agencies offered no support; she died only a month after being registered. With financial aid having ceased altogether in early 2021, the family feels very insecure about their future and bitter about their past.
According to the UNHCR’s Procedural Standards for Refugee Status Determination (RSD), there are specific guidelines for case closure or reopening, dictated by an individual and their needs. While the guidelines may seem clear at face value, there are technicalities and subtleties that pose dilemmas for Safa and her family, such as her father being excluded for not fitting certain conditions as an individual regardless of the needs of the family.
“My life in Lebanon is bad, especially with everything that is happening today,” said Safa. “I have no future here, we’re constantly facing racism. We can’t return to Sudan because we have absolutely nothing there and there would be no future for us. The fact that my father isn’t registered and has no residency papers means there is a real possibility of our family being separated. What are we going to do if that happens?”
Safa also pointed out that there are members of the Sudanese community in Lebanon who are survivors of the Darfur genocide but also facing similar issues, despite fitting what is commonly understood as the profile of refugee. “We are all refugees,” Safa said, her voice cracking with emotion, “[Being a refugee] should not be separated by nationality, or be arbitrary, or [in]consistent. We all deserve our rights.”
The case of Mubarak, a Sudanese political activist, also sheds light on the severe difficulties the community faces in Lebanon. Mubarak, who was already deported in 2016 from Lebanon to Sudan — where subsequently he was disappeared and tortured — was able to escape and return to Lebanon, and is now facing a second deportation that could potentially be fatal.