Sudan is changing its rules for Syrians wishing to reside in the country after years of being able to travel to Sudan without a visa, and the right to work, education and medical care.
Since the outbreak of the civil war in Syria a decade ago, over 11 million Syrians have been displaced, with about half of them fleeing the country. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, all bordering countries, have received most of the refugees. Yet, although largely unnoticed, Sudan had been also welcoming tens of thousands of Syrians, especially since it became the only Arab country that did not require a visa.
For years, Syrians arriving to Sudan could reside, work, start a business and access services, like education and health care, on equal footing with Sudanese citizens. Syrians did not even have to process residence permits as they were considered neither refugees nor residents but guests, said Adham Aldaham, director of the Khatwa Initiative for Syrians in Sudan, an organization working with refugees.
This situation, however, is rapidly changing under Sudan’s transitional government. Since it took the reins of the country in 2019, the authorities have been gradually issuing new regulations that are making the access to residence, jobs and services increasingly difficult for foreigners, including Syrians. In December, the process reached a whole new level when an entry visa was imposed for the first time on Syrians arriving from Syria.
According to the Sudanese Nationality Act of 1994, last amended in 2018, foreigners could apply for citizenship by naturalization after having resided in Sudan for at least five years, among other requirements. In 2014, Aldaham said that Bashir, in accordance with the powers conferred upon him by the act and the constitution, approved an exception by which Syrians, Palestinians, Yemenis and Iraqis who had resided in Sudan for six consecutive months could be granted Sudanese nationality through naturalization.
In practice, obtaining the Sudanese passport through legal procedure was not easy, and the granting of the Sudanese nationality largely depended on a corrupt network whose connections reached Bashir’s brother, according to an investigation by journalist Abdulmoneim Suleiman. It is thus not clear how many Syrians obtained the Sudanese nationality.
In parallel, Sudan’s Ministry of Interior announced Dec. 9 that the chairman of the Sovereignty Council, Abdel Fatah Al Burhan, had issued a decree to withdraw citizenship from 3,548 people who had obtained it by naturalization without meeting the conditions stipulated in the law. It is not clear how many of them are Syrians, but they are believed to represent the majority. In July 2020, national IDs had been frozen and the renewal of passports for those who had acquired nationality between January 2014 and April 2019 were suspended, according to a statement by the Ministry of Interior. Sudanese authorities had previously announced the formation of a committee to review the files of foreigners who had been granted Sudanese nationality between 2014 and 2019, Aldaham said.