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

Hostage Crisis Could Divide Japan Over Plans to Boost Military

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday the government is working closely with the Jordanian government to secure the release of remaining Japanese hostage Kenji Goto More

Video Brussels Shaken as New Greek Leader Challenges Europe’s Austerity Drive

Country's youngest ever PM Alexis Tsipras, 40, sworn in Monday and says he will restore dignity to Greece by ending spending cuts More

Multimedia National Geographic Photo Camps Empower Youth

Annual mentoring program's mission is to give young people a voice to tell their own stories through photography More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid