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Sudanese Internal Displaced People

Challenge for the Future Administration

By Ras Neza Boneza


Bio Other articles in this series...

Transcend Africa Network: Report on Refugees


War and The HIV/AIDS Epidemic in the Great- Lakes region of Africa 


International Migration and Development Revisited


Ghettoization or Globalization Of African Literature


Great Lakes Region of Africa - Burundi


Africa in the Face of the Development of Others


Rwanda: Conflict, Genocide and Post Genocide


Child Rights Associations/Youth Movements in Rwanda


Assistance, Bi-lateral Cooperation and Humanitarian Interventions


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Rais Neza Boneza  2006


The civil war in Sudan has created nearly four million internally displaced persons (IDPs) within its borders. In January 2005 a peace agreement was signed between GOS (Government of Sudan) and its main opponent in the South, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) led by John Garang. After the signing of the agreement that sworn into the government former rebels, the international community drafted contingency plans to prepare for the voluntary repatriation of Sudan’s refugees and IDPs. A number of logistical hurdles still stand in the way of repatriation, including:

A weakened infrastructure throughout southern Sudan, particularly in regards to transportation and basic services;

The inherently unpredictable timetable of spontaneous returns; • Chronic food insecurity;

Fear of violence caused by the presence in southern Sudan of the Ugandan insurgent Lord’s Resistance Army and other Sudanese militia groups.

This paper is far too short to be able to enumerate the many detailed policies and programmes that will be necessary for an effective response to the problems of IDPs in Sudan. However the IDPs crisis in Sudan will only be overcome when there is a solution to the root causes of mass migration. Achieving peace and respect for human rights are essential, but not sufficient. Redressing regional imbalances in development and service provision, and providing sustainable development to rural areas are also essential.

The problem of IDPs will only be solved when the two main root causes of mass migration are resolved. These root causes are:

1. War.

2. Massive inter-regional inequality in income and life chances.

There are no possible policies to prevent migration in Sudan: people who are desperate will always find a way of travelling to where some food and life security are available. The only solution is to make it attractive for them to stay in the rural areas, or return there. This paper is intended to explore a relevancy to the challenge of future policies. It focuses on what the new transitional government in collaboration with the African Union or other relevant agencies should do to ensure that the Sudanese displaced can be reintegrated into Sudanese social, economic and political life.


Internally Displaced Persons 

The number of IDPs in Sudan today is estimated at more than four million. This is the highest proportion of the entire population of any African country, and one of the very highest in the world. This exceptionally high level of displacement is the outcome of the war in the South, Nuba Mountains and East, and famine and impoverishment in various parts of the country.

Although the sheer level of displacement is unprecedented, large-scale migration is not new in Sudan. The following factors need to be taken into account in order to understand the phenomenon of IDPs. 

1. The Sudanese population has historically been mobile. The 19th century witnessed large-scale nomadic migrations, massive displacement caused by war and slavery, and the forced migrations of the Mahdist era.

2. Since colonial days, central Sudan has relied upon cheap migrant labour. This has been supplied, in succession, by West Africans, western Sudanese, Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees, and now Southern Sudanese. The Gezira scheme is one of the world’s largest planned settlements.

3. The gross disparities in income across Sudan’s regions attract migrants and displaced people to the main cities. Approximately 50% of Sudan’s national income is concentrated in Khartoum, which is why the city can support such a huge population of displaced people.

4. Unless the gross disparity in income across regions is changed, it is unlikely that the IDP problem will be resolved in the long term. Poverty will drive people out of rural Sudan and Khartoum will attract them.

5. Wars, famine, dispossession of land and insecurity have forced millions to flee in the last fifteen years. Many want to return home.  


General overview of the IDP’s in Sudan 

Millions of displaced people are encamped in different regions of Sudan such as in the Blue Nile region, the Southern Kordofan (Nuba region), or the west equatorial (near the Uganda and Ethiopian borders). About 1.8 million are resident residing in and around those regions—A March 1999 UN report stated:

 About 1.8 million displaced from southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains live in four official displaced camps and squatter settlements around Khartoum. The ongoing civil war in the south and recurrent droughts and floods are the main causes of their displacement. Of these 1.8 million people, 820,000 are estimated to be vulnerable and nutritionally at risk. With no land to cultivate, they are entirely dependent on wage labour, petty trade and relief. 80% of the IDPs earn only enough to meet 50% of their food needs. The high prevalence of malnutrition in new camps and squatter settlements (mainly women and children) are of serious concern. The most vulnerable groups are considered to be the IDPs in squatter camps who had their dwellings demolished as part of the GOS ongoing relocation exercises.

The camps are social disasters. Malnutrition rates among IDPs are extremely high. According to UN and NGO surveys, between 12 and 24 per cent of children under five are malnourished—rates that are comparable to the poorest rural areas during food shortages. Only about one third of IDP children attend school.



Generally, governments have regarded IDPs as a socio-economic burden and a security threat. For this reason, harsh measures against IDPs have often been popular among city dwellers. In the 1990s under its supervision, the Sudan government implemented systematic relocation policies with no due process, and often with considerable brutality. They created so called "Peace Cities", which were later dismantled with a new amendment adopted by the Government. This new amendment (the Civil Transaction Act), prohibited appeal against land adjudications made by the government. The problem of IDPs cannot be solved in isolation. It needs to be solved in the context of a policy that allows for voluntary return to the areas of origin—which in turn will be possible only with peace and economic rehabilitation.

Cultural change among IDPs 

Although they have stayed within Sudan, many IDPs have undergone dramatic cultural changes or even greater than the changes that have affected refugees outside their own country. An entire generation has grown up in a wholly new environment. In this environment, all the traditional forms of livelihood—agriculture, livestock, etc—no longer exist, and people survive by working in the informal sector, or by crime. There is a growing phenomenon of drug abuse, with street children abusing toxic substances such as glue and gasoline. Levels of HIV infection are reported to be high.

In place of traditional societies, new kinds of social organisation have developed, often structured around churches,or Christian,or Islamic missionary organisations. These structures have sometimes generated tensions within communities. For example, Islamic Da’awa relief organisations have tried to indoctrinate children into their extremist belief systems as a condition for providing education, so that communities are becoming ideologically or religiously divided according to which assistance organisations are present.

These new structures have acquired some strength and legitimacy simply because they have existed for some years, and there are no alternatives. Any new government will have no option but to work with them in the short term. But there is a pressing need for providing good democratic representation of IDPs, to enable them to elect their representatives and participate in both local and national democratic politics. 


Return, Resettlement and Re-integration of IDPs

 How can the IDPs in the North be expected to return home? Even with peace and some economic development in their places of origin, it is likely that many will choose to remain in and around Khartoum and other cities. The economic factor will remain a strong motivation to stay: the income available in the major towns, although small, will still be greater than the possibilities in rural areas. If a substantial proportion of IDPs leave, the relaxation of pressure on the labour market may also make it more attractive for the remainder to stay. The socio-cultural factor will also be important. For many IDPs, especially those under twenty, there is no other life experience. ‘Returning’ to Southern Sudan,or the Nuba Mountains would be to move to a new and alien environment, to a place in which they do not have the linguistic, social or technical skills to survive. There is no alternative but to recognise that many IDPs will, in time, become full citizens of the national capital, with full democratic rights there.

A solution to the IDP’s crisis requires an end of hostilities all over Sudan territory and the adoption of policies that enable IDP’s to return willingly to their region of origin, and resume ownership and cultivation of the land that they and their ancestors formerly farmed. The rehabilitation of the war-affected areas in the south will require the removal of land mines, the reconstruction of basic infrastructure, policies to support livelihood security, and policies that ensure security of land tenure to the inhabitants. A comprehensive, coordinated approach should be implemented and it is necessary to negotiate a framework between the Sudan government, the IDPs themselves and the international community, who are probably financing much of the assistance programme. This means the recognition of the fundamental principle that participation in all programmes must be solely on a voluntary basis