News / Africa

    Tired of Economic Crisis, Sudanese Try Luck Abroad

    Sudanese migrants wait to pay taxes at the Secretariat for Sudanese Working Abroad, Khartoum, May 13, 2013.
    Sudanese migrants wait to pay taxes at the Secretariat for Sudanese Working Abroad, Khartoum, May 13, 2013.
    Reuters
    In a cramped government office in Khartoum, engineer Ahmed Taha and dozens of other Sudanese, lured by local newspaper adverts for jobs in the Gulf, sit waiting to get a permit to leave the country and work abroad.
     
    "I've had enough of Sudan and will go to Saudi Arabia," said Taha. "I am so tired of this country, the [economic] crisis, the corruption."
     
    Taha, who has been working in an office accounts department for two years because he could not find a professional post, has just been hired as an engineer by a construction firm in Saudi Arabia — a move that will increase his salary sevenfold to 2,500 Saudi riyals ($670) a month.
     
    "I also want to find my wife a job as a teacher in Saudi Arabia because she makes only 600 Sudanese pounds ($95) a month here. We cannot live on our salaries."
     
    Sudanese migrants wait to pay taxes at the Secretariat for Sudanese Working Abroad, Khartoum, May 13, 2013.Sudanese migrants wait to pay taxes at the Secretariat for Sudanese Working Abroad, Khartoum, May 13, 2013.
    x
    Sudanese migrants wait to pay taxes at the Secretariat for Sudanese Working Abroad, Khartoum, May 13, 2013.
    Sudanese migrants wait to pay taxes at the Secretariat for Sudanese Working Abroad, Khartoum, May 13, 2013.
    Like thousands of other Sudanese, Taha is escaping a country gripped by economic crisis since losing 75 percent of its oil production, its lifeline, when South Sudan seceded in July 2011.
     
    Analysts estimate unemployment is running at between 20 and 30 percent, although there is no official data.
     
    Annual inflation topped 41 percent in April and the Sudanese pound has more than halved in value against the dollar since South Sudan's independence, making life unbearable for many.
     
    Brain Drain

    Nearly 95,000 Sudanese, from laborers to teachers, nurses and engineers, left the country last year compared to only 10,032 in 2008, according to official data. Some analysts say the number is even higher because travel movements are hard to monitor.
     
    Net migration contrasts with some other African countries, including South Sudan, that are seeing skilled professionals return home as the continent's economic development and increasing foreign investment create career opportunities.
     
    For Sudan, struggling with a high budget deficit and a shortage of foreign currency needed to pay for imports, migration has economic benefits.
     
    The World Bank estimates migrant workers remitted $1.13 billion to Sudan last year, up from $442 million in 2011. That helped to offset the country's goods and services trade deficit, estimated at $6.7 billion by the International Monetary Fund.
     
    The exodus of workers should also help reduce unemployment.
     
    A prolonged "brain drain" of professionals, however, would put further pressure on the country's deteriorating public services, adding to the country's economic problems.
     
    "We are suffering under the economic hardship," said Omar El Fadli, who left Sudan in 1974 to study in Britain and then worked in France and the United States before coming back in 2005 to buy a restaurant in central Khartoum.
     
    "To be honest with you we have been trying to sell [the restaurant] for over two years," he said. "It's not profitable anymore."
     
    At the visa office in Khartoum, women in dark blue robes, representatives from government-approved employment agencies, are on hand to help applicants fill in the required paperwork.
     
    "We sort out the paperwork for doctors going to the Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia which is requesting a large number of Sudanese doctors to work there,'' says Hamda Kassem, one of the employment agency staff.
     
    While the Sudanese government allows labor agencies to arrange work contracts for doctors heading to the Gulf, a government-commissioned study published in January also expressed concern about the exodus of healthcare professionals.
     
    Doctors leaving
     
    More than 6,000 Sudanese doctors left for Saudi Arabia alone between 2009 and 2012, according to the government study, commissioned to assess the reasons for migration. Around another 1,000 doctors have gone to Libya since the ousting of ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, it says.
     
    That is leaving health services in Sudan vulnerable as countries in the Gulf and elsewhere snap up the country's leading specialists. Newspaper reports of patients dying in Sudan hospitals after being misdiagnosed by ill-qualified doctors are not uncommon.
     
    "There is a very bad effect on medical services," the government study says. "The emigration to Saudi Arabia will result in the loss of specialists which will be felt directly ... in the provinces."
     
    "Sudanese medical colleges pump out up to 4,000 doctors annually but some colleges use textbooks that are more than 10 years old and have no surgical equipment."
     
    The study forecasts that emigration from Sudan will continue to increase in the next few years due to economic, social, security and political reasons.
     
    Sudan has for been plagued by insurgencies. Long confined to remote regions such as Darfur, rebels struck a central region last month, triggering fears they might attack Khartoum again like in 2008.
     
    Few Western engineering firms operate in Sudan due to a U.S. embargo in place since 1997, making the country reliant on mostly Chinese companies to build infrastructure, and they tend to import their own workers.
     
    Sudanese government efforts to combat unemployment by hiring more young people for public sector jobs and starting infrastructure projects have been hampered by the budget crisis.
     
    Young people complain that corruption also makes it hard to find work — jobs in the public sector, the biggest employer, often go to people with the right connections, known as wasta, they say.
     
    "You cannot find a job without wasta," said Hisham Hassan, who graduated in civil engineering from the Sudanese university of Atbara in 2008 but has yet to find work.
     
    "I can't afford to get married or anything," he said after receiving his exit permit at the visa office.
     
    He has landed a job at a Saudi builder paying him a monthly salary of 3,000 riyals — in Qassim, one of the most conservative regions of Saudi Arabia. "It will be fine. I have no choice anyway," he said.
     
    Concerns about personal freedom in Sudan are also encouraging emigration. Security agents have cracked down hard on small street protests organized mainly by students dreaming of an "Arab spring." Divisions in the weak opposition and the army's support for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir mean Sudan has avoided the uprisings seen in Egypt or Tunisia.
     
    Sudanese skills

    Sudanese professionals have a tradition of going overseas to gain experience and make money. In the 1960s and 70s, they flocked to the Gulf as those economies took off.
     
    Opportunities dried up after the 1991 Gulf war when President Bashir failed to back the U.N.-led military operation to end Saddam Hussein's occupation of Kuwait. In retaliation, Gulf countries deported thousands of Sudanese once Kuwait was liberated.
     
    With governments in the Gulf spending billions of dollars on roads, schools and universities again, Sudanese are back in demand although prospects in Saudi are dampened by a crackdown on illegal workers and policies to replace foreigners with locals.
     
    Sudanese are also looking further afield. At the Goethe Institute in Khartoum, run by the German government, there's a waiting list of up to three months to enroll in German classes.
     
    Ahmed Shamun is making a living from the rise in migration.
     
    Having worked in Abu Dhabi as an English translator for 13 years, he returned in 1993 and now runs an employment agency in Khartoum, fixing up Sudanese with jobs in the Gulf. Yet, he still laments the trend.
     
    "It's not just doctors or engineers leaving, most of them are workers," he said, sitting in his small office next to a travel agent selling air tickets to Saudi Arabia.
     
    "I don't like it but what else can young people do? There are no jobs here."

    You May Like

    Post-White House, Obamas to Rent Washington Mansion

    Nine-bedroom home is 3 kilometers from Oval Office, near capital's Embassy Row; rent estimated at around $22,000 a month

    Red Planet? Not so much!

    New research suggest that Mars is in a warm period between cyclical ice ages, and that during Ice Age Maximum over 500,000 years ago, the red planet was decidedly ice, and much whiter to the naked eye.

    Taj Mahal Battles New Threat from Insects

    Swarms of insects are proliferating in the heavily contaminated waters of the Yamuna River, which flows behind the 17th century monument

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora