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Call for Papers: International Conference on Population Mobility,(Sudan) 11/10

Faculty of Economic and Social Studies
University of Khartoum
International Conference on Population Mobility: ICPM 2010
Socioeconomic and political dimensions of population mobility in Sudan

A conference concept note

Sudan represents a case of conspicuous population movements. While these movements are subsumed under the general banner or framework of migration, the extent to which the country witnesses striking population movements is illustrated by the fact that in 2004, over 17 percent of Sudan inhabitants were internally displaced. Rural-urban migration has historically been one of the main types of movements that were practiced by migrant labourers who seek seasonal employment either in cities or irrigated and/or rain-fed agricultural schemes. Over the last three decades, however, migration ceased to be seasonal and migrants either prolong their stay or opt for permanent settlement. Khartoum has the biggest share of migrants. The latest census results show that more than two thirds of the city inhabitants are in fact migrants (not born in Khartoum).

The 1984/85 drought and the resumption of civil war in Southern Sudan accelerated population movements. Displacement, whether caused by drought or civil wars, became one of the defining features of Sudan since the 1980s and beyond. Since displaced persons principally relocate to major cities, urban population in Sudan grew remarkably. The extent to which big cities could absorb the displaced is an issue that requires attention. Moreover, whether big cities represent melting pots where traditional loyalties fade away; paving the way for national integration is another issue that requires attention. In fact, the extent to which population movements affect national integration and the future of the country is central to any nuanced attempt that strives to study and analyse these movements. Population movements in Sudan are also development induced. A classic example was the relocation of the Nubians in 1964 when Aswan High Dam was built. In recent years, the Merowe Dam Project also led to population movements and relocation although the experience is different from that of Nubians in the 1960s. While the Nubian case received some scholarly attention, the Merowe one requires looking at. It must also be noted that there are many other dams that were already planned. Additionally, the work in heightening Roseires Dam is underway and is leading to dislocation of many adjacent villages.

Socioeconomic and political dimensions of population mobility in Sudan

In addition to the above internal population movements, there are movements that traverse borders, represented by migrants and refugees. Migrants and refugees have been part of social formation in Sudan. Sudan represents an interesting case when it comes to population movements that traverse borders. It is at one and the same time an exporter and receiver of both migrants and refugees. Historically, different groups migrated to Sudan during different historical periods. Migration from Arabia and West Africa not only contributed to the formation of the present day Sudan with its current political boundaries, but also contributed to the process of a contested identity that is part of social and political evolution and conflict in the country. While ancient waves of migrants came voluntarily, the years that followed independence in 1956 witnessed increasing number of forced migrants from neighbouring countries; notably Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, Chad and, recently Somalia. Refugees from Ethiopia and Eritrea still come to Sudan. Local newspapers estimate that during August 2009, about 100 Eritrean refugees cross the border to Sudan on a daily basis. By far, the number of refugees is much bigger than that of migrants who come to Sudan for purely economic reasons.

Following oil discovery in Sudan in 1999, the country witnessed migration from Asian countries (Bangladesh, Philippines, Indonesia, Egypt, Turkey, China, and Syria). These migrants come to Sudan in a number of capacities: investors or businessmen, domestic workers, etc. Domestic workers represent the majority of recent economic migrants to Sudan. Yet, the categories refugees and asylum seekers (as defined by the Geneva Convention of 1951) are by far the most conspicuous and challenging in terms of both research and policy. Thousands of refugees from neighbouring countries sneak in and blend in the society and as such it is not easy to procure accurate figures. This is particularly the case with cross border groups.

In terms of refugee population, Sudan represents an interesting case in the Horn of Africa. The country is an interesting case because, in spite of long civil wars and political instability, Sudan is receiving refugees from neighbouring countries whose conditions are not as worst as the Sudanese case. In terms of relative security and stability, Uganda, Chad, and Ethiopia are better than Sudan. Yet, people from these countries have been seeking refuge in Sudan for the last 30 years. One obvious reason for this is that Sudan has a generous refugee policy, but it also has no effective mechanisms of guarding its long borders. Another reason is that since the 1980s, Sudan ceased to have a clear or coherent refugee policy. This, however, does not mean that refugees and asylum seekers in Sudan fully enjoy rights enshrined in the Geneva Convention of 1951, to which Sudan is a signatory, since Sudan is not well endowed economically to provide reasonable livelihood conditions for refugees. Sudan does observe, however, generally speaking, the principle of non-refoulement. In the end, the lack of clear asylum and refugee policy is contingent on political conditions and alliances in the region. In 2007, there were 296,400 refugees and asylum seekers in Sudan. Eritreans, Chadians, Ethiopians, Ugandans and Congolese make up the population of refugees and asylum seekers in the country. Their numbers for the year 2007 are as follows: 230,000 Eritreans, 25,000 Chadians, 20,000 Ethiopians, 7,000 Ugandans, and 2,000 Congolese. These numbers (especially for Eritreans and Ethiopians) must be dealt with carefully since they do not represent reality. The actual numbers of Ethiopians and Eritreans are much more than the reported figures, which are provided by the UNHCR. It must be emphasized that although interesting, the Sudan case is part of the political crises and instability in the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes Region. Like Sudan, many countries in these two regions are producers and receivers of refugees and asylum seekers. While Sudan presently hosts almost 300,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers, there are 636,800 Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries and further a field. Those same countries that send refugees to Sudan also host Sudanese refugees.

The different dimensions or aspects of population movements outlined above represent economic, political, social and sociological problems that require tackling. While there are few studies (students¡¦ dissertations) and reports on internally displaced persons, more studies are needed. Issues that require more attention include the extent to which the displaced feel that they are part of the urban wrap. Studies on migrants and refugees are also scanty. Apart from the scholarly studies of Gaim Kibreab and Ahmed Karadawi on Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees in Sudan, and Mohamed El-Awad Galaledin on Sudanese migrant in the gulf (1988), very little had been done on the subject. In particular, there is a big gap in our knowledge about international migration in Sudan. Immigration and emigration are certainly two areas that need attention. The economics of population movements is one area that requires looking at. The sectors that absorb them, the jobs they perform, competition with nationals, their remittance and contribution to the national economy, etc., are all issues that require studying. Politically, there are many challenges posed by population movements. Internal population movements have political implications. This is also the case with international population movement (both immigration and emigration). The presence of huge numbers of refugees from neighbouring countries represents a national security problem. In 2007, the Sudan government rejected a proposal from the UNHCR to resettle Eritrean refugees in Sudan. Citing ¡§national security¡¨ as a reason, the authorities agreed to allow Eritreans to live in Sudan as long as they wish to, however. This brings the question of citizenship to the fore. The question of migrant and refugees policy also comes as an issue that requires looking at; whether Sudan has such policy or not. Whether there are legal instruments that deal with migrants and refugees is yet another issue that warrants investigation. Are there laws that regulate the presence of migrants and asylum seekers?

The conference is organized around the following broad themes:

  • Rural-urban migration
  • Internally displaced persons (types; natural or man-made causes, livelihood strategies of internally displaced persons, how far they fare in their host communities, question of return to original areas, etc.)
  • Refugees and asylum seekers to Sudan (case studies by country of origin, issues of livelihood and protection, state policies on refugees and asylum seekers, the role of UNHCR, repatriation of refugees, cases from refugee camps in eastern Sudan, etc.)
  • The impact of refugees on host communities (interethnic relations, competition over resources, security problems, spontaneous forms of integration)
  • Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries and further afield (case studies)
  • International migration (labour migration, highly skilled Sudanese migrants, etc.)
  • Migrants to Sudan: (labour migrants/domestic workers from Asia, Ethiopia and Eritrea- case studies)
  • The economics of population movements (labour markets, employment, remittances, etc.)
  • The politics of migration (government policies with regard to international migration, refugees and asylum seekers, legal aspect)

Time and venue:

2-4 November 2010, Khartoum.

Important deadlines:


Interested scholars should send their abstract no later than July 15th 2010. Authors of accepted abstracts with be notified by July 15th 2010

Complete papers:
September 15th 2010

Scholars coming from abroad are advised to seek funding for their travel expenses. The organizers will cover the cost of accommodation and food during the conference. Internal transportation during the conference will also be covered. Abstracts should be sent to with copies to

Conference organizing committee

Abdel Ghaffar Mohamed Ahmed, Professor (Conference Chair), Department of Anthropology Munzoul A. M. Assal, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology Hisham Mohamed Hassan, Assistant Professor, Department of Econometrics and Social Statistics Yassir Awad, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Sciences Saif Alnasr Ibrahim, Lecturer, Department of Economics

Page Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D.

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