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Do not forget the crisis in Sudan

by
14 June 2024

In the midst of civil war, the country’s Christians are especially vulnerable, writes Illia Djadi

Open Doors

People take water at a refugee camp for those displaced from the Nuba Mountains, in Sudan

People take water at a refugee camp for those displaced from the Nuba Mountains, in Sudan

IN THE cacophony of global crises, the desperate pleas for help and attention coming from Sudan are easily drowned out: it is yet another crisis perpetually consigned to the foreign news pages. To leave it as an occasional “elsewhere in the world” for quieter news days, however, is to underestimate vastly the gravity of the situation there.

I recently met some of Sudan’s church leaders in Addis Ababa and listened to their urgent pleas. As Sudan grapples with a brutal civil war, the country’s minority Christians say that they feel abandoned and neglected, and that their plight is perpetually overshadowed. This sense of abandonment is not just a vague sentiment: it is a harsh reality for millions who are facing unprecedented suffering.

The stories that I heard during my visit were heart-wrenching. One church leader, whom, for safety’s sake, I will not name, described how Christians were trapped, unable to flee, because of the constant threat of violence. He recounted tales of people running from street to street, desperately seeking safety, only to face looting and violence from armed groups. The lack of protection is palpable. The sense of vulnerability is overwhelming.

More than one year into the conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces, the humanitarian disaster has reached staggering proportions. Nearly nine million people are displaced. The country faces one of the world’s largest hunger crises. Despite this, Sudan remains on the periphery of international attention. As one church leader poignantly told me during my visit, “We feel forgotten. The world has turned its back on us.”

 

THE war has intensified the already severe persecution faced by the two million Christians in Sudan. The country is ranked eighth on the Open Doors World Watch List, which tracks countries where Christians face the worst persecution.

For Sudanese Christians, life was already fraught with danger and discrimination. Now, with the added chaos of civil war, their situation has become even more precarious. Churches have been destroyed — 150, at the last count — and Christians are targeted with impunity by warring factions and opportunistic criminals alike.

In the midst of this chaos, Christians and church leaders are particularly vulnerable. They fear a resurgence of the hardline Islamist policies that were partially rolled back after the ousting of the dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019 (News, 18 April 2019). The fear of reimposed sharia law looms large, threatening to undo the fragile progress made in religious freedoms. One church leader expressed the pervasive fear when he said to me: “If the Islamists return to power, all the recent gains will be lost. We will face even harsher persecution under sharia law.”

The international community’s silence is deafening. While there are grass-roots efforts to provide support, and peacebuilding initiatives led by religious and traditional leaders, these are woefully inadequate, given the scale of the crisis. The secretary-general of the Anglican Communion, the Rt Revd Anthony Poggo, has called urgently on the international community not to forget Sudan (News, 26 April). He emphasised the dire need for greater humanitarian support to alleviate the suffering of millions.

 

THIS humanitarian disaster demands immediate action. The international community, particularly Western countries and global superpowers, must step up their pressure on the warring parties and their supporters to cease hostilities. The support from neighbouring countries, providing weapons and resources to the factions, must be stopped. It is this external support that perpetuates the cycle of violence.

Furthermore, immediate relief is crucial. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people are in dire need of basic necessities. Many are in refugee camps in neighbouring countries such as South Sudan, Chad, the Central African Republic, and Egypt, living in squalid conditions. The international community must ensure that these refugees receive the support that they need.

This is not just a call for humanitarian aid: it is a call for justice and protection. The world cannot continue to ignore the cries of Sudan’s Christians. They need more than just our prayers: they need tangible action. The UK, with its historical ties to Sudan, can play a pivotal part. The British Government must use its influence as leverage to rally international support and put pressure on the conflicting parties to negotiate peace.

In these trying times, the resilience and faith of Sudanese Christians are remarkable. Yet their endurance should not be mistaken for acceptance: they continue to cry out for help, justice, and peace. As one church leader told me, “Pray for us, but also help us. Do not forget us.”

Sudan stands at a crossroads. Without swift and decisive action, it risks descending further into chaos and becoming another Libya — a cautionary tale of what happens when the world turns a blind eye. We must heed the Christians’ call, not just in words, but in deeds. The time to act is now.

Illia Djadi is Senior Analyst for Freedom of Religion or Belief in Sub-Saharan Africa at Open Doors International.

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