Muslim Wire

EGYPT: John Simon, “I don’t know where I will be tomorrow”

Posted in Politics, Society by muslimwire on October 22, 2009

CAIRO, 19 October 2009 (IRIN) – Officially, there were 41,423 refugees registered with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Cairo in September. The Sudanese make up the biggest national group – 22,689. Of these, about 35 percent are Southern Sudanese, according to UNHCR.

In the first of a series of interviews with refugees living in Cairo, IRIN spoke to John Simon (not his real name), a 33-year-old Dinka from Southern Sudan, about why he left home, and what prospect he faces in this host country.

“I left Sudan in 2002 because the government security forces wanted to kill me. I was a university student and had joined a Bible study group that also tried to help other Christians with clothes and food. At the time, I didn’t know that our meetings and activities were being monitored by the government. I found out later once they had arrested me and put me in jail in Khartoum.

“They accused me of trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. But it was not just about religion, they also felt threatened that our tribe might try to make a coup against them.

“After being released from my second time in jail, because they didn’t have enough evidence, a friend helped me to sort out my papers so that I could leave for Egypt.

“It took me a long time to get registered as a refugee with UNHCR in Cairo. Eventually, I got registered in 2004 and started to get some benefits from them. I appreciate what they give me, but really all I want is to finish my education, get a proper job and raise a family.

“I also get some help from CARITAS [a Catholic NGO and UNHCR implementing partner in Egypt] but what I need is a durable solution.

“I share a small apartment in the Ain Shams area of Cairo with other Southern Sudanese. There are many of us in that neighbourhood. Most Sudanese can get jobs here but the salaries are very low, barely enough to cover the rent. It’s not Egypt’s fault because even their people are poor and facing similar struggles.

“We Southern Sudanese usually keep apart from the northerners, because we can’t be sure we can trust them. If they find out I’m a refugee, they want to know why and what I did. Sometimes it’s very dangerous for me.

“I would love to go back home if it really was safe. Some say it is and have returned, like my uncle, but I never heard from them again so I don’t think it has changed. I heard that my mother and father are still alive but there is no-one there to help them in their old age. I have spent seven years in Egypt and not sent one pound home.

“My life is full of uncertainty. I don’t know where I will be tomorrow. What is the future? Where is the hope?”

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