Sudanese Government Agrees to Issue 30,000 Work Permits to Refugees in East Sudan
Access to formal employment will soon be a reality for thousands of refugees in east Sudan. Last Thursday, UNHCR announced the government’s decision to issue approximately 30,000 work permits to refugees in Sudan’s Kassala state. For the estimated 80,000 refugees in the region, the provision of work permits means an opportunity to formally contribute to the Sudanese economy and engage in regulated employment.
The change of policy has largely come about through the work of the Transitional Solutions Initiative (TSI), a joint program between UNHCR, UNDP, the World Bank and the Government of Sudan, which has sought to provide a framework for transitioning displacement situations in Sudan to durable solutions. Through the collaboration of the development, refugee and government actors, the TSI project is geared towards increasing refugees’ opportunity for self-sufficiency. Expanding livelihood opportunities has been prioritized as a critical objective to achieve this end.
The program represents a refreshing approach to protracted refugee situations, responding to displacement not just through the provision of humanitarian aid, but rather with a long-term development strategy in mind. The TSI Concept Note states:
“Notwithstanding the political and security dimensions, the perception that displacement challenges can only be addressed by humanitarian means is ill-conceived which has either impeded or delayed in achieving the sustainability of solutions or resulted in protracted displacements finding difficulties to break from the cycle of dependence on humanitarian assistance and to move on with their lives and livelihoods.”
TSI and the provision of work permits has played a vital role in placing refugees on the development agenda and ensuring their future self-sufficiency and socio-economic integration. As UNHCR’s Mohamed Qassim remarked, “The government of Sudan’s endorsement of this agreement represents a huge milestone in the refugees’ progress towards self-reliance and reducing dependency on external humanitarian aid.”
Although Sudan’s Asylum Act currently affords refugees the right to work, in practice, work permits are rarely issued to refugees. As a result, refugees have too frequently been pushed into the informal market, making them particularly vulnerable to trafficking, smugglers and kidnappers. Now that access to lawful employment will be an option, UNHCR has stated that they are committed to ensuring that refugees are informed about their workers’ rights to prevent exploitation in the formal sector. Likewise, the Labor Office will be strengthened to streamline procedures for issuing work permits and provide the necessary labor regulations to ensure that refugees are formally drawn into the labor market.
Members of the refugee-serving community eagerly await the implementation of the new work rights framework in east Sudan, hoping that TSI will become a widespread approach, paving the way for self-sufficiency and economic inclusion of refugees on a global scale.
Anna Wirth is the Global Policy Fellow at Asylum Access. She previously studied and practiced law in Melbourne, Australia (Monash University) and received her European Master’s in Human Rights and Democratisation (E.MA) from EIUC, in partnership with University of Helsinki.