As we welcome Sudanese refugees to the Syracuse community, some area groups are making efforts to educate Central New Yorkers about the devastating war in Sudan. Early May saw a weekend of activities on "Sudan and Syracuse Together for Peace," sponsored by the Sudanese Community Association of Syracuse, the Catholic Charities/Refugee Resettlement Program, and the InterReligious Council of Central New York/Refugee Resettlement Program. Saturday's program featured both Dr. Muna Ndulo, the Director of the Institute for African Development at Cornell University, and Dr. Julia Duany, a professor at the University of Indiana and the Coordinator of South Sudan Friends International. On Sunday, about fifty people participated in an eight-mile Walk of Remembrance designed to recall the walks away from war undertaken by many Sudanese refugees.
Two million Sudanese have been killed and more than twice that number displaced by a decades-long civil war in Sudan, a conflict reaching back over forty years but raging most intensely since 1983. In 1955, the year before Sudan achieved independence from British and Egyptian colonial rule, war broke out between the mostly Arab-dominated Islamic Northern government and the generally Christian and animist South. It is a complicated history of struggle and oppression _ one centered on control of resources, religious intolerance, and basic human freedoms.
Saturday's program opened with a performance by young Sudanese men. They wore T-shirts proclaiming a "New Sudan" and sported wide, hopeful smiles. They clapped, danced, and sang, welcoming us, before spilling into the aisles amid applause. The young men represent a small portion of the 144 Sudanese who have resettled in the Syracuse area, working and attending school, in the past year and a half.
They also represent a larger group of refugees known internationally as the "Lost Boys of Sudan," thousands of whom were driven from their homes and families in 1987 to Ethiopia. They faced disease, famine, lack of sleep, and attacks by pro-government militias along the way, only to find themselves uprooted in May 1991. The thousands of young men then traveled back through Sudan and into Kenya. In recent years, the US has agreed to admit 4,300 of the Sudanese refugees to the US, but tens of thousands remain in a crowded and dusty camp in northern Kenya.
Dr. Duany lamented the status of so many young in refugee camps, calling it no life for any people, much less for children. She likewise decried the present conditions in Sudan, often instituted and almost always exacerbated by policies of the government in the North, as unacceptable, unequal, and unjust. Dr. Duany came to the US in 1985 to find greater freedom, and now works with South Sudan Friends International, seeking to help those suffering in Sudan and to promote religious, racial, and cultural tolerance as well as equality. These must exist first if a lasting peace is to be achieved. "When you are hungry, you have no peace," she said. "When you are sick, you have no peace; when your kids have no education, you have no peace; when you have no health care, you have no peace."
Dr. Ndulo similarly called the Sudan government a "gross human rights abuser," citing such government-implemented practices as border expulsions, bombing of civilian targets, and torture. Based on his experience working as a Chief Political Advisor to the UN on missions for peacekeeping in South Africa (1994), East Timor (1999), and Kosovo (2001), Dr. Ndulo proposed guidelines for an effective international involvement in Sudan in an effort to achieve peace. He stressed that people first must understand the "structural nature of problems," calling conflict "a symptom of underlying causes."
Many believe Sudan currently stands at the crossroads of a unique opportunity for greater peace. Slowly, international governments, including that of the US, are appearing more willing to become involved in the peace process. As citizens, we should press this issue with our elected officials; we should push for a peace based on initiatives insuring justice.
For a more thorough analysis and history of the Sudan and the longstanding conflict, visit www.sudan.net or www.southsudanfriends.org. Both provide extensive information and links to numerous sources. They also include ways in which to get involved in the struggle for justice and peace. As always, write your elected representatives. In the Central New York area, if you want to help out, you can contact:
Hope Wallis of the InterReligious Council/Refugee Resettlement Program, (315) 474-1261.
Kip Hargrave of the Catholic Charities/Refugee Resettlement Services, (315) 472-1544.
Amy is a student at Syracuse University and a member of the newly-revived SU Student Peace Action Network.