Thirst is felt on this August morning. There are dozens of Sudanese waiting in the courtyard of All Saints Cathedral, which also houses the headquarters of the Anglican Church in Egypt. In the shade of the parasols placed on the asphalt, the thermometer is close to 40°C. “I’m looking for a way to support myself and my family,” says Rashida Mohammed, who is touring Cairo-based charities.
Seven weeks earlier, the 29-year-old began a 3,000-kilometer journey from El-Fasher, the capital of North Darfur. This region is part of the vast territories ravaged by the war that began on April 15, between the regular troops of the Sudanese Armed Forces and the very powerful militia of the Rapid Support Forces.
4.7 million civilians on the roads
Rivalries crystallized over a disagreement over the integration of militiamen into the army. For their part, the Islamists of the old regime, hostile to the return of a democratic transition which would threaten their economic interests, have continued to fuel this conflict. The NGO Acled has provisionally recorded nearly 5,000 deaths. The clashes also threw 4.7 million civilians onto the roads. The second host nation behind Chad, Egypt recorded more than 287,000 arrivals. Many, like Rashida Mohammed, are nevertheless excluded from this count.
“Our passports were expired, so the Egyptian consulate refused to issue us a visa. We had to cross the border illegally,” says the survivor. After the ordeal of the Nubian desert, infested with scorpions and snakes, she is one of the lucky ones who reached Cairo but finds herself in a situation of extreme vulnerability, both material and psychological. However, many Christians are struggling to help these civilians, the majority of whom are Muslims.
A saturated job market
This is the case of Pastor Yasir Kuku, who welcomes Rashida Mohammed in his air-conditioned office. “Every day, Sudanese refugees come here to collect food and clothes. We also take the sick to the hospital, says this Sudanese who has lived in Cairo for twelve years. At the same time, we organize training to facilitate the hiring of these new arrivals. »
Finding a job is a feat in an almost saturated market. Before the outbreak of conflict, Egypt officially hosted 291,500 refugees and asylum seekers, plus thousands of irregular migrants. “The few positions available are so poorly paid that they cannot survive,” summarizes Ali (1). This accountant now belongs to the small portion of survivors who have found work.
His boss is called Peter George. Last year, this businessman had a vision: Christ asked him to work for the Sudanese, at the time already relegated to the disadvantaged suburbs of Cairo. “It is our responsibility as human beings and Christians to transmit the love of God. We cannot be satisfied with words. We must show love in action, which generates tangible results,” he insists.
A holistic approach
Education, sport, female entrepreneurship… In a few months, this Egyptian evangelical has set up various projects dedicated to Sudanese refugees. Then, he integrated the newcomers into the ranks of the SME he had just inaugurated to focus on training and development. “We try to work holistically,” continues Peter George. Because we cannot support a community without strengthening its skills. »
In the brand new premises with the smell of fresh paint, the accountant Ali relishes his privilege… without managing, however, to mourn his past life. “There are no words to explain what it feels like to lose everything: your home, your job, your country…” he says. Feeling a little relieved by his contract, the forty-year-old began the process of sending his 10-year-old twins to school.
Growing tensions with the host community
The fees required for a school following the Sudanese curriculum are 12,100 Egyptian pounds per year (€362). Here again, solidarity is organized. The Egyptian branch of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) will thus support 70,000 schoolchildren for the coming year, including at least 15,000 survivors of the current war.
“We remain vigilant, because opening borders tends to fuel tensions with the local community,” adds Katie Dutko, head of programs at the CRS, which operates in conjunction with the UN, the government and other NGOs. Many Egyptians struggle to provide basic needs for their families. So it’s a little frustrating for them to have to share resources, services and humanitarian aid with these new migrants. »
“A chance to help others”
Eager to limit the pressure, the Egyptian authorities have drastically reduced border crossings since June 10, resulting in an increase in illegal crossings. Some Sudanese finally leave in the direction of the bombs, resigned. “My brother returned to Sudan yesterday to work and send us money,” says Rashida Mohammed.
About a thirty-minute drive from the diocese, Ebtehaj Mustafa launched the “Hand to Hand” initiative with two parishioners. A refugee in Cairo herself after converting to Christianity, this radio presenter regularly makes rounds at the station to identify disoriented Sudanese families. “God is giving me a chance to help others,” she says humbly. Since the end of July, she has devoted most of her efforts to Samia (1) and her seven children, victims of human trafficking and sexual abuse during their flight.
A platform for departures to Europe, neighboring Libya is infamous for this type of abuse. However, the war risks increasing the number of candidates for the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean, while the young people remaining in Sudan constitute a breeding ground for both camps. And, finally, recruits coveted by the Islamic State.
In Sudan, a secularization project on hold
Since 1983, the law has been based on Sharia law. Despite the fall of the military-Islamist dictatorship in 2019, the reform of the Penal Code was not successful. This rigorous application of Islam leads to archaic judicial decisions. Last year, a shepherdess accused of adultery narrowly escaped stoning.
The Christian minority (around 5% of the Sudanese population), as well as animists (2 to 3%), remain marginalized.
On March 28, 2021, the transitional authorities signed a “declaration of principles” towards the secularization of the State. The putsch perpetrated seven months later froze this process.