By Michiko Asanuma
30 April 2014
“Many Sudanese come to the country by smuggling,” says Sasha Yara, 30, one of the immigrants in Birmingham, originally from South Kordofan of Sudan. She is a mother of four children and came to UK nine years ago.
The Sudanese population, such as Yara, is among the immigrants in Birmingham, the second most populated city in the United Kingdom with over 1 million. The city embraces diverse culture from Caribbean, African, and South Asian countries. In 2011 census, the white British composes 53.1% of the population of Birmingham whereas 80.5% is the UK average.
“My husband is one of those smuggled to the country and applied for refugee status,” Yara says. She joined him after his asylum had been granted and started family life there.
She and her family were attending a charity event in Birmingham for the refugee children from Sudan organised by a support group for Nuba tribe, called Green Kordofan in March. The Nuba people are from the mountainous area of Southern Kordofan region. They belong to the Northern part of the border with the South Sudan, which gained independence in 2011.
Although they believe themselves as real Sudanese, the conflicts still continue between the government army and Sudanese Population Liberation Movement North over supremacy. To secure their own lives from the civil war, Nuba people had to flee wherever it is possible.
It takes a long journey to seek asylum. Smuggled out of Sudan, in Sasha’s husband’s and many others’ cases, they would go to Egypt or Lebanon, then through Turkey, moving to Europe such as Italy or Bulgaria then, finally reached to the United Kingdom.
Sasha has a sister in Saudi Arabia, cousins in Switzerland, and relatives in Italy. She explains why they live apart: “Once you get a stamp on your passport as a refugee, you must live in that country. If the authority finds you living in other country than your residence, they will send you back to your home country.”
“Living in this place is OK. I have other Nuba people around, who can share our sufferings and fight for ourselves,” Sasha says. Besides raising children, she studies on her own so that she will have more chance to find a job. “Even if you got an education in the UK, it is difficult for immigrants to find a job. Life isn’t easy.”
A Sudanese musician Hassan Salih Nour was invited to the fundraising event to play an Arabic guitar-shaped instrument called wod with some other musicians. The music united young and old, Sudanese and other Brits, all those thought of the country.
The Green Kordofan’s Raga Gibreel organised the fundraising event prior to Mother’s Day in March. Mother’s Day cards and raffle tickets were sold to raise money for her new initiative.
She has a long-term perspective and just set up a crowdfunding scheme. The project “Hope for Our Young Nuba Refugees” provides Nuba children in Yida refugee camp in South Sudan with safe and structured environment to play football in teams and to avoid them from joining military groups. The project funded with the raised money (with the goal for $6,000) will enable to procure equipment and give children practices three times a week in the pilot six months.
She says in her inaugurating speech: “It is about giving them rehabilitation, new future and prospect rather than going to the army.” She believes that this kind of activities gives children not only recreation and discipline but also self-respect and ambition for the future. It could also serve mothers and other guardians free from stress and pressure of taking care of the household on their own without men.
Darfur Union UK, an organisation campaigning for peace in Sudan, is one of the Sudanese organisations that support her initiative. Its secretary general Motaz Bargo talks to the people attended the event: “This organisation is founded with courage and determination. Please stand up, support the kids and look for the future that will combine us all together.”
Gibreel currently tries to reach to the private sector such as sport clubs and sporting companies to get a support for the project. A number of British humanitarian aid organisations have already tied up with Green Kordofan.
Waging Peace is one of those organisations that support Green Kordofan with their expert advice and funds. They raise awareness of human rights atrocities in Sudan through campaigns to decision-makers and the public, articles in the national press and events in parliament, schools and universities. Its director Olivia Warham says: “Raga is doing some important work giving support to refugee children in Yida camp.”
Founding Director of Grassroots Diplomat, a diplomatic consultancy, Talyn Rahman-Figueroa sees Gibreel’s idea “ambitious” but her organisation has seen in the past that sports through a strong programme can facilitate the engagement of the parties.
The role Grassroots Diplomat plays is, according to Rahman-Figueroa, to bring in interested parties to support the project and to build partnership within the country to ensure stability.
She expects the outcome of the project, saying: “Once the project has had some success, it will be easier for both Grassroot Diplomat and Green Kordofan to propel its vision to no longer calling people in Kordofan ‘refugees’, but citizens of a place they call home.”
That is the ultimate goal of Gibreel and other Sudanese immigrants trying to achieve through their activities. “We love our country. We would like to go back if we can live safe there,” says Naguwa Shagga, another organising staff of the event in Birmingham.
Shagga would like to do anything possible for mobilising Sudanese in UK to improve the situation back home. There are several organisations in UK such as Nuba Mountains Welfare Association and Nuba Mountain Solidarity to support the stability of the Koldofan region.
Nuba Mountains Welfare Association, for instance, organises cultural events on Nuba Day, collects and donates clothes, educational materials and medical supplies to Sudan and provides adults with educational programs such as computer courses, which is open for public.
She says: “Children who were born here [in the UK] may have different thoughts. But for us, here is a temporary home. We would like to go back to our land.”
Note: Some names are changed upon the request of the refugees.