Letter concerning Sudanese refugees and internally displaced persons
9 August 2010
The Honourable Lawrence Cannon, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs
125 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0G2
The Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P.
Minister for Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism
Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 1L1
The Canadian Council for Refugees would like to express its deepest concern regarding the current difficulties facing Sudanese refugees and internally displaced persons. Their situation is all the more urgent due to the possibility of a radical deterioration of the situation in Sudan in the years ahead, and particularly in the coming months. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) has not been fully implemented. In the interests of regional stability, and to prevent further displacement and protect already displaced persons, we urge the Canadian Government to increase commitments in the areas of diplomacy, peacekeeping, humanitarian aid and refugee protection. These efforts should focus on the total implementation of the CPA, without neglecting other important concerns, including preparing for the post-CPA phase and ensuring the fair treatment of refugees from Sudan.
In the past year, there has been large scale violence and displacement in several areas of North and South Sudan. Progress overall towards the consolidation of peace has stalled. Of particular concern is the lack of progress in recent months on progress on key provisions in the CPA relating to democratization and reduced state repression. It is no longer reasonable to expect that the northern part of Sudan will enjoy in the foreseeable future significant democratization or large scale liberalization. The government in Khartoum is firmly in control of power and continues to exercise extreme and well known mechanisms of repression.
The tragic failure of the CPA has become increasingly evident in recent months. It is now time for the international community to reconsider approaches to displacement, both efforts to protect people displaced within Sudan, and the treatment of Sudanese refugees, notably with respect to questions of repatriation and resettlement.
This critical historical moment for Sudan presents us with great challenges. Many current issues of concern are related to the upcoming referendum on the separation of South Sudan, scheduled for January 2011. Failure to implement provisions of the CPA, to prepare for the post-CPA phase coming in 2011 and to resolve the Darfur crisis are all possible flashpoints. Sudan could become the theatre of the world’s bloodiest and most tragic conflicts in the years to come, if there is a return to war between North and South, if state building efforts in South Sudan fail, or if there is a continuation of the Darfur conflict.
While it is understandable that efforts and attention tend to be focused on the CPA and the Darfur crisis, there is a danger of the international community neglecting to also pay sufficient attention to dire situations unfolding in certain areas of both northern and southern Sudan. This failure has serious implications for individuals displaced from and within these areas.
The Nuba Mountains of Southern Kordofan province is one such area of concern. Because of their strategic location between the north and south and because the area is resource rich, the Nubans have found themselves exploited by the government of Sudan, much as the Darfurians have been. Access to humanitarian aid and government services has been severely restricted by the government. The lack of schools, particularly Arabic-language high schools in the Nuba Mountains, is one area of serious concern. Many Nubans have fled the country but, because of the Peace Accord, they have not received the attention they deserve as refugees. There are indications that as events develop in the coming year, the Nuba Mountains may become a pawn in the South’s efforts to establish its post-referendum independence and in the government’s effort to secure the territory bordering the south.
According to a March 2009 report of the National Democratic Institute, “the scale of the current conflict in Southern Kordofan is such that many [individuals interviewed in the area] believe the state is close to a return to general, state-wide war.” Reports from the International Crisis Group express similar concerns.
We believe that there is no reasonable prospect of voluntary repatriation for many or perhaps most refugees and currently protected individuals from the Northern parts of Sudan, including the Nuba Mountains, Darfur and the area of Abyei. Significant numbers of displaced Sudanese continue to have a well-founded fear of returning to Sudan due to serious threats to their lives and liberties.
Along with the challenges, this historical moment offers important opportunities for constructive engagement. Now would be a very reasonable time to renew and increase efforts to resettle refugees from Sudan, efforts which decreased dramatically between 2002 and 2005, due to the now unfulfilled hopes of the CPA. Canada has an important role to play in any renewed resettlement efforts as we have successfully resettled large numbers of Sudanese refugees in the past. Many Sudanese former refugees are now full and active members of Canada’s economy and society.
We also call on the Canadian government to give ongoing support for peace and human rights in all regions of Sudan in the coming transitional period, including the post-referendum phase. In addition, we urge the government to take diplomatic initiatives to help ensure peace and security in the coming transitional period. A first step would be the appointment of an ombudsman who could follow, report to and advise the Cabinet on developments affecting the fundamental rights and security of the people of South Sudan and the Nuba Mountains.
In closing, we would like to recognize the important efforts taken by the Canadian government in recent years to promote peace and human rights in Sudan, as well as to resettle Sudanese refugees. We hope Canada will at this important moment continue and augment its efforts in these areas.
1. The leadership of the government of South Sudan, as represented by the SPLM is very firm on the point that the January referendum must not be pushed back. The CPA ends its “interim period” in July 2011 and the referendum is to be held no less than 6 months before the end of this period.
2. Losing Hope.” Washington/Juba: National Democratic Institute, March 2009, available at http://www.ndi.org/node/15366
3. See, for example, the December 2009 report entitled “Sudan: Preventing Implosion.” For more background on the crisis in the Nuba Mountains, see the 2008 report “Sudan’s Southern Kordofan Problem: The Next Darfur?” These reports are available at http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/africa/horn-of-africa/sudan.aspx