Previously on this blog I have documented the existence of two distinct communities of African origins in Syria: (i) the Afro-Syrians of the Yarmouk Basin area in southwest Deraa province near the borders with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and (ii) the West African Shi'a community in Damascus. A third community consists of Sudanese-Syrians: that is, more recent Sudanese migrants to Syria and their offspring. To be sure, the Afro-Syrians of the Yarmouk Basin area are also reputed to have Sudanese origins, but their ancestors settled in that area well before Syria was established as an independent, modern nation and so their descendants are reckoned as Syrians and have Syrian nationality in contrast to the newer Sudanese-Syrian community. There has been some intermarriage between the Sudanese-Syrians and the Afro-Syrians of the Yarmouk Basin area.
To learn more about the Sudanese-Syrians and their status in Syrian society, I interviewed today a friend of this community who still resides in Syria. He was born in Syria. His mother was born in Syria and his father was born in Sudan.
The interview is slightly edited and condensed for clarity. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Q: Are there many people in Syria of Sudanese origins? Your father for example, how did he come to Syria?
A: [There are] more than 1000 Sudanese families. My father came in 1994 for work and then to return but his circumstances did not allow him to return.
Q: When did they [the Sudanese] come to Syria? And how did they come?
A: There are people fro some time meaning more than 20 years ago, and the majority come from Iraq, they fled from the Iraq War.
Q: The war between Iraq and Iran you mean?
A: There are people [who fled] because of the Iran[-Iraq] war and there are people in the American war.
Q: I see, meaning when the Americans waged war against my homeland in 1991 and 2003.
A: My father was in 91 and it is possibly the reason that allowed him to come here [Syria], and there are people in 2003.
Q: So your father came directly from Sudan or he came from Iraq?
A: No he came from Sudan to Iraq and later came to Syria.
Q: And most of the people from Sudan who have come to Syria have married Syrian women?
A: There are some but not many. And most of the Sudanese married to Syrian women: their wives are from Jalin [a locality of the Yarmouk Basin with a substantial Afro-Syrian population] and the Golan.
Q: Yes, because there are people from Jalin and the Golan of African origins. Your mother for example is from Jalin?
A: No my mother is from the Golan.
Q: And most of the Sudanese families are living in Damascus city?
Q: Generally how is life for them?
A: Poverty, ruin because of form [/appearance] and colour. Even in work they say to you why are you working among us?
Q: I see. So there are problems of racism in the society?
A: Yes, there are, and a lot [of them],
Q: For example they curse you and call you 'zunuj' [Arabic word for an African person, generally considered derogatory]?
A: Yes, not zunuj: black.
Q: I see I mean they use this word zunuj and it is a racist word.
A: Yes: isn't it the same thing if I say to you zinji or black? True or not?
Q: Yes true. Do you have Syrian nationality?
A: No, they do not give it to us. We have tried to take nationality but they have not given it to us. They said we do not have the right to it. And there are people who have volunteered with the Syrian army and waged war against terrorism, and I am among them.
Q: And despite that they did not give you nationality?
A: No, they did not give me and I was wounded and they gave me nothing.
Q: In which areas did you fight? And are you still volunteering with the Syrian army?
A: No I left. [I fought] in Darayya, Wadi Barada, Jobar.
Q: Are there many martyrs of the Sudanese Syrians who fought with the Syrian army?
A: No, but there are wounded.
Q: Yes, and they did not give them nationality?
A: No, even material compensation they did not give them.
Q: In what employment positions do most of the people of Sudanese origins work?
A: No the 'iqama [residence permit] that is with us: on it is written- 'Not allowed for him to pursue work.' But we are working in toilsome jobs: self-employment.
Q: Have some of the people migrated to Sudan and Europe since the beginning of the war?
A: There are people but very small number: that is, the one who has money to leave has left and the one who does not have it [only] has God. And there are people submitting refuge request with the UNHCR: they have managed to get settlement.
Q: Do you have a message for Syrian society in general?
A: Yes I have: that there are many Syrian youth and others, if a small opportunity becomes possible for them, they can change a whole generation. And don't judge a human being from his appearance. He may be the best person you meet in your life: when you see his inside, you will find it the opposite of his colour. And he has feeling in him: he loves and sacrifices like any ordinary person, and let all the people remember that the colour of the Ka'aba is black and that what covers their honour and blemish [/private parts] is the colour black [i.e. clothing to cover women, as one reader noted for clarification].