North Sudanese Culture

North Sudanese in Australia

It is important to note that the current statistical information on the North Sudanese population in Australia is widely misleading. This is because in 2011 Sudan split into two countries: North Sudan and South Sudan. Many South Sudanese list “Sudan” as their birthplace on censuses, as South Sudan did not exist as an independent country at the time of their birth. Consequently, many South Sudanese get categorised with North Sudanese. While North Sudan is majority Muslim, only 16% of the recorded Sudan-born population in Australia identified with Islam in the 2011 census. As a result, accurate demographic data on the Australian Sudanese community is unavailable.

 

Further, one cannot generalise the migration experiences of North Sudanese people in Australia as they vary significantly depending on people’s background (i.e. ethnicity or religion), which conflict or political development they may have been affected by and when they left the country. Furthermore, it is important to avoid correlating the North Sudanese individual’s migration experiences with those of South Sudanese refugees, as these are usually very different. Broadly, migrants from North Sudan fall into three demographics that have each formed communities in Australia: Sudanese Christians, Sudanese Arab Muslims and Darfur refugees.

 

Sudanese Christians

Sudanese Christians began arriving to Australia after Sudan gained independence from its Egyptian and British colonists in 1955. They are generally from the urban areas of Sudan (i.e. Khartoum) and are well-educated, arriving on skilled migrant visas as professionals. However, the political imposition of Islam and the introduction of Shari’a law in 1989 saw more Christians arrive on humanitarian visas. 

 

The majority of Sudanese Christians in Australia are Coptic Christians, although there are also some Eastern Orthodox Christians. Many have mixed heritage or nationality with either Egypt or Europe. For example, most Copts are descendants of Egyptian immigrants that lived in Sudan. Generally speaking, Sudanese Christian migrants have shown a stronger attachment to their religious identity than their Sudanese national identity. This has been reflected in the way they have settled in Australia. Most Coptic Sudanese have joined the Coptic Egyptian Australian communities, whilst most Eastern Orthodox Christians have been absorbed into the Greek Orthodox Australian communities.1 At the time of writing, there is only one distinct Sudanese-Coptic organisation in Australia. 

 

Sudanese Arab Muslims

The Sudanese Arabs are one of the only North Sudanese expatriate groups that are likely to feel a strong attachment to their nationality. They are Arabic-speaking Muslims, who have mostly arrived from the 1990s onwards (see Sudanese Arabs in Core Concepts). Many Sudanese Arabs in Australia are political refugees that became victims of the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983 to 2005). These families often lived in a transit country for a long period of time (usually Egypt) while their claims for asylum were processed before migrating to Australia. Some other families may have moved to an Arabic-speaking Gulf country where they lived as expatriates before arriving as skilled migrants. In both these cases, the majority of Sudanese Arabs spent their years of transit in urban areas and cities, not refugee camps. Most children continued their schooling during this period. As a consequence, Arab Muslim migrants from North Sudan are generally well-educated and urbanised. 

 

Refugees from Darfur

The most recent influx of North Sudanese migrants has been refugees fleeing the Darfur conflict (2003 to present) (see Darfur Crisis in Core Concepts). These are generally Muslims belonging to the Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit ethnicities. Most were rural farmers in Sudan, and speak a local language specific to their ethnicity. While some may able to understand Arabic or have learnt it during their migration journey, it is not their first language. Their linguistic and cultural differences from the majority of Sudanese Arabs living in Australia have led most Darfur refugees to form their own communities in Australia. 

 

Darfur refugees can face particularly difficult settlement challenges. Some may have had no employment history in skilled jobs outside of agriculture, and others may also be illiterate. It is reported that the Australian government has settled some Darfur refugees in rural towns rather than larger cities to accommodate their background as farmers. 

 

Refugees from Darfur have generally endured a long, distressing period of displacement in refugee camps across Darfur, Chad, the Central African Republic and Egypt (particularly Cairo) prior to their arrival in Australia. Reports of harassment, arrests, systemic rape, targeted assassinations and forced disappearances have consistently emerged from the camps.2 Furthermore, there is reason to believe that the Sudanese and Egyptian governments have been preventing Darfuris from accessing avenues to claim asylum while in transit.3 It is important to consider that many continue to have grave concerns for the safety of their family remaining in these places.4 In addition to enduring hardships in refugee camps, some may have faced repeated attacks by the Janjaweed militia and witnessed the atrocities of the Darfur genocide (see Darfur Crisis in Core Concepts). 

 

Experience in Australia 

Media reporting often does not differentiate between the different ethnicities and nationalities of the African people living in Australia. A distinction is rarely made between the separate countries of North Sudan and South Sudan. This can lead to misconceptions that the cultural behaviours of the South Sudanese community reflect those of the North Sudanese people. Moreover, there is little public understanding about the diversity within North Sudan alone, making it more challenging for Sudanese individuals to explain their cultural differentiations to Australians.

 

As with other African communities in Australia, the Sudanese people are sometimes the target of intolerance and hostility from the Australian public. According to the Scanlon Foundation’s 2015 survey, 54% of respondents with an African background claimed to have experienced racial discrimination in a 12-month period.5 

 

It is reported that Sudanese migrants tend to miss the community focus of their culture. In Sudan, whole neighbourhoods may be deeply involved in helping everyone collectively meet everyday challenges (see Interdependence and Community in Core Concepts). Therefore, it is common for Sudanese families to form close-knit communities in Australia to support one another. In some cases, this has resulted in negative stereotypes of their communities as too ‘insular’ or an assumption that they are not adapting to the ‘Australian way of life’. 

 

Despite perceived discrimination, the majority of Sudanese migrants report satisfaction with their lives in Australia.6 The vast majority speak English well or very well. Most have also sought to educate themselves if they had not received a formal education already. It is common for people to seek training to fill professions that had an undersupply in Sudan, such as doctors, lawyers and political scientists. For many, the suffering of their people and country has motivated them to make positive contributions to their community in Australia.

 

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1 Jupp, 2001
2 Adam, 2018
3 McCullough & Darfur Australia Network, 2010
3 McCullough & Darfur Australia Network, 2010
4 Markus, 2015
5 Markus, 2015
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