By BosNewsLife Africa Service
KHARTOUM, SUDAN (BosNewsLife)– Hundreds of thousands of Southern Sudanese Christians are “effectively being forced to leave” Sudan within three weeks having been stripped of their citizenship, a Christian aid workers confirmed Wednesday, March 21.
Barnabas Fund, a Christian advocacy and aid group, told BosNewsLife that as many as 700,000 people originating from neighboring South Sudan, are effected by the ultimatum.
“They have until 8 April either to leave the strongly Islamic” Sudan “or to be treated as foreigners under a regime that is extremely hostile to non-Muslims and non-Arabs,” the group added in a statement.
Most of the Christians fled north to Sudan during the long civil war which eventually led to the creation of the new state of South Sudan.
After the South voted to secede in January 2011, Sudan removed citizenship rights from all those of Southern origin.
Yet, as they have lived in Sudan for decades “few have ties with the South”, Barnabas Fund explained.
CHURCH LEADERS CONCERNED
Church leaders are reportedly concerned that many Christians cannot leave as they have children and homes in Sudan.
However “There are fears that Christians who remain in Sudan after the deadline may face increased persecution or even forced repatriation,” Barnabas Fund said.
The Khartoum government reportedly says that that people in Sudan whose parents, grandparents or great-grandparents were born in South Sudan, and those who belong to any Southern ethnic group, “are nationals of that country.”
Barnabas Fund said it fears a massive exodus could trigger a humanitarian emergency at a time when both Sudan and neighboring South Sudan face difficulties.
“Despite the end of the long civil war and independence of South Sudan, Christians in both nations continue to suffer grievously,” explained Patrick Sookhdeo, international director of Barnabas Fund.
PEOPLE FLEE SUDAN
“South Sudan is taking the strain as hundreds of thousands of people flee from [Sudan’s] President Omar al-Bashir’s ongoing brutal campaign to Islamise and Arabise Sudan completely,” he told BosNewsLife in a statement.
It comes as the young state of South Sudan faces a major food crisis as drought has ruined crops, according to the UN World Food Programme (WFP).
Nearly five million people in South Sudan could suffer from food insecurity in 2012, with an estimated one million in severe need, according to UN estimates.
The country’s resources are also strained by the arrival of refugees from clashes in the border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, adjacent to newly-independent South Sudan.
Around 185,000 people have fled to South Sudan and Ethiopia to escape the ongoing aerial bombardment of civilians by the Sudan Armed Forces, Barnabas Fund said.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PEOPLE
Over 400,000 people are internally displaced as the area has been under attack since mid-2011, according to UN estimates. The Nuba Mountains area, which is around 30 per cent Christian, has been one of the worst hit, Christian rights activists said.
The Sudanese military has been relentlessly bombing the Nuba Mountains since June, killing hundreds of civilians, trying to quash a dug-in rebel movement, according to aid workers.
Recently, Chinese-made long distance rockets have been used by the Sudanese Armed Forces in the area, which often hit villages instead of military targets, residents said.
Khartoum accuses Juba of continuing to back the insurgents, which South Sudan denies.
However South Sudanese and Sudanese forces have increasingly clashed in a poorly-defined border area since late last month, the Sudanese military explained. That outbreak of violence has also put a recently signed non-aggression pact into question, Western observers say.
“Our brothers and sisters need our help and prayers as they are forced to leave their homes and rebuild their lives elsewhere,” Sookhdeo said.