Barnabas Fund, an international Christian aid agency, has transported and helped over 8,000 Christians escape persecution at the hands of the Islamic government in Sudan, and is calling for help to save the many more who find themselves stranded.
"In the North the government is becoming increasingly anti-Christian," Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo, the international director of Barnabas Fund, said in a phone interview with The Christian Post on Tuesday.
"The North is heavily Sharia-based and strongly anti-Christian. So we've got situations where women are arrested for breaching Sharia law on dress, and can then be whipped and imprisoned. That is a major problem," he added, noting that a number of Christian churches have been attacked as well.
Sudan, one of the largest countries in Africa in terms of land mass, underwent a major civil war between 1983 and 2005, which resulted in almost 2 million casualties. Sookhdeo told CP that many of the victims were Christians from the South, who were targeted by the government of northern Sudan, which tried to impose Islamic law and the Arabic language on the people.
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After the end of the civil war, the nation was divided into two countries – the Republic of the Sudan, which is the strongly Islamic north, and South Sudan, where most of the Christians are concentrated.
A number of Christian families became stranded in the North, however, and are now living in poor living conditions in refugee camps, hoping to find a way to travel to the South where they can enjoy greater religious freedom.
"So what you have is a situation where after independence, the Muslim North becomes increasingly Islamic and puts pressure on the Christians who are left in the North. We were requested by the church leaders in the North to find a way of enabling the women and children to flee from the North to the South," Sookhdeo explained.
In a June 2013 testimony on human rights in Sudan, Jehanne Henry, a senior researcher at the Human Rights Watch's Africa division, noted that the human rights situation in Sudan "has deteriorated markedly over the past two years since South Sudan's independence."
"The Sudanese government remains highly repressive, with a draconian national security apparatus that targets real or perceived political opponents – including students – for arbitrary arrest and detention, ill-treatment and torture," Henry added. "They have also shut down nongovernmental organizations that promote democracy, ostensibly for receiving foreign funding, and have closed a number of ethnic Nuba groups and religious groups."
Barnabas Fund explained in a report that earlier this month, thanks to generous donations from a number of supporters, it managed to rescue a further 3,400 Christians from the North, allowing them to begin a new life free from oppression and hostility.
"We have reached here with the help of God. We shall live well with God's help in our land," one of the rescued Sudanese women says in the report.
Sookhdeo explained that the rescued Christians are transported to Juba, the capital and largest city in South Sudan, where they are met by a reception committee, which then sends them to members of their families.
Barnabas initially began airlifting Christians to safety in 2012, but last October the major road connections between Sudan and South Sudan were re-opened, which allowed the agency to begin transporting people by bus at a lower cost, allowing it to help many more.
The international director noted that Sudan's Christians have received almost no help from big aid agencies.
"The problem was none of the big secular aid agencies would do anything. The government, the U.N. didn't do anything, so we actually took the challenge and were able to save 8,000," Sookhdeo said.
Although most of the rescued where women and children, some of the elderly men and the disabled were also airlifted as part of the operation. The fit and able-bodied men have largely been left to their own means to escape to the South and to prepare to welcome their families, but others have been left behind.
"I think we can save a lot more," Sookhdeo said, noting that Barnabas Fund is collecting donations on its website for further rescue operations.
"I think Christians can pray for their brothers and sisters who are there in the North."