Sevcik's Blog

A year in Cairo Egypt

Saturday, October 08, 2005

RE: St. Andrew's mission and brief Sudan history lesson

***Before reading this, please read my previous post about my first few days at St. Andrews.

St. Andrew’s United Church as been working with refugees since the late 1970s. The program has grown over the years to meet the needs of the refugees and evolved from a small English program taught by a number of church volunteers to a comprehensive program of services for refugees. The school aims to provide refugees with classes to improve their skills so that upon resettlement or repatriation their opportunities for successful integration will be improved. Students study English, math, science, art, computer and sport using a culturally diverse curriculum taught in English. Approximately 85% of refugees served by St. Andrew’s Ministry are from Sudan, with the remaining 15% from other countries in the Horn of Africa. The mission of the ministry is to serve refugees who have fled their country due to war or disaster, who have well-founded fear of return due to persecution or loss of rights, or who are recognized as refugees by the UNHCR.
A bit of Sudanese history: Sudan has been continuously plagued by violence since it gained independence from Britain in 1956; most recently due to the civil war between a southern province inhabited by African, Christian Sudanese and a Northern area run by Arab, Muslim Sudanese, that began in 1983. At the beginning of 2003 violence erupted in the Western province of Darfur where two rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) attacked military installations. Now the number of displaced civilians continues to increase and most of them are without shelter or live in over-crowded refugee camps around Darfur’s major cities. Janjaweed (Nomatic Arab tribes) reportedly kill men and rape and abduct women seeking water and wood. Darfuris are increasingly dependent on food aid, although most aid organizations are unable to reach Darfur and its surrounding areas. The government is beyond corrupt and adds to problems.
However, in January of this year a peace treaty was singed between Sudan’s first vice president Ali Osman Taha and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLA) leader John Garang. The core of the agreement is the SPLA’s right to six years of self-rule in southern Sudan and to half the revenue from Sudan’s oil wells and other resources. However, John Garang was killed in a helicopter accident on July 30th, making the continuation of peace much more difficult. I’ll research more about how well this “peace” is coming along, but from where I stand today, it’s not working.
It’s a VERY DIFFICULT time for refugees right now. Last year the UN helped approx. 41,000 people relocate, which is great! Now, the program as essentially ceased to exist due to the peace treaty. The world is now putting money into the ‘peace keeping’ instead of resettling refugees around the world. Money donors now say, “Well, there is peace, so this money should be used to send refugees home.” Of course, the UN and other donors have good intentions, but the reality is different. Since there is “peace” in Sudan, the UN assumes people who are still coming to Egypt from Sudan are here for economic or medical reasons, not for fleeing violence. Yet there is no real peace in Sudan.
The refugees feel so frustrated and hopeless; because the resettlement program is basically over, they can’t go forwards, yet they can’t go back home. Even though live in Egypt is very poor, they rather deal with life in this country that doesn’t want them here than go home to war and greater famine. St. Andrew’s has an even greater roll to play now. Even when the children don’t understand everything that’s going on in Sudan, the parents are fully aware of how stuck they are right now. For some children, life in Egypt isn’t so bad—for instance, at St. Andrew’s they have education and friends. But, many parents are generally miserable. With this new feeling of hopelessness, tensions are rising and it’s affecting the children. St. Andrews is now, just as ever, committed to keeping the grounds peaceful and hopeful. For so many kids (and adults!), St. Andrew’s is “it”—their social life, their school, their playground, their sanctuary from the outside world. As Dick explained to our staff, these children are the future. They will either continue the war or stop it. Please pray that the Sudanese are filled with hope and joy, and that these emotions stir more motivation for peace in the future.


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