After learning about Sudanese refugees trapped in the Middle East, officials at the State Department contacted the U.S. embassy in Damascus to request a review of the cases cited in WORLD's Sept. 21 cover story ("The road to Damascus"). At the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, officials were "very surprised," one officer told WORLD, to learn that the United Nations is processing only about one in 10 Sudanese for political asylum.
In other parts of the world, Sudanese-particularly Christians from south Sudan-are more readily approved because of the Islamic government's long-running war on them. The State Department's trafficking office could get involved in the cases as well, if officials can confirm that some of the refugees left Sudan involuntarily. An official asked WORLD to continue to follow those cases as the government investigation proceeds. We will.
Sudanese resettled in the United States have not forgotten the death and destruction they escaped. Exiled Sudanese traveled to Washington to take part in the kickoff to a week of daily vigils that began on Sept. 18. They included "Lost Boys" who have made their home in the United States after years of wandering as orphans in Sudan. Lost Boys living in this country now number over 5,000.
Those who made it to the capital joined with organizers from several Christian relief organizations in erecting a life-size Sudanese village in a park just outside the State Department. Along with demonstrating life in war-torn Sudan, the refugees are asking the Bush administration to throw its weight behind renewed legislative relief for Sudan in the wake of a failing U.S. peace initiative.
Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) announced an agreement reached among House and Senate lawmakers expected to permit the long-stalled Sudan Peace Act to move forward. The bill to push famine relief and democracy passed the House overwhelmingly last year but stalled in the Senate in the 9/11 aftermath. Without legislation, Sen. Brownback told vigil attendees, recent peace initiatives "will wilt away."
Rebel forces and the government tentatively agreed in July to give south Sudanese more autonomy. But the arrangement quickly broke down with repeated bombing by government forces and the rebel takeover of key government-held towns in the south.
One of the attacks killed over 1,500 Sudanese in Western Upper Nile and displaced as many as 250,000 people, according to Brad Phillips of Persecution Project, who returned from the area this month. He told WORLD that about 1,000 Sudanese drowned in the Bahr al Gazal River attempting to flee government attacks. The villages under attack border land slated for oil development by the Islamic government (see "Politics of starvation," WORLD, July 28, 2001).
In attacks this month, government forces bombed an abandoned airstrip where children regularly played after school outside Yabus in Blue Nile province. The attack killed two boys-ages 4 and 7-and wounded eight children.
"This bombing was pure harassment," said Dennis Bennett of the relief group Servant's Heart, whose base of operations is in Yabus. No rebel garrisons or military targets are in the vicinity. In the town of Lui, government forces bombed an area near a hospital run by Samaritan's Purse, a relief organization headed by Franklin Graham. The bombs produced "no deaths, injuries, or property damage," reported projects director Ken Isaacs, but the bombs fell on the hospital's fifth anniversary.