The following speech was delivered at the February 1, 2012 Beja Cultural Day in Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC.
Good afternoon, my name is David Condron, Director of the Beja Friends organization. I represent a group of Americans who have been meeting and pooling our resources for over 10 years to help the Beja people. We are ordinary citizens from all walks of life: engineers, housewives, accountants, and retired folks, as well as pastors and people from concerned churches across the country. All of us heard about the Beja either through word of mouth or the Internet. But we have all been surprised lately to discover there are Beja living in the United States, many as refugees from political and religious persecution.
With me today is my friend Mohammed Idris Hadeghe, a legal refugee. He is 48 years of age, married with two children a boy and a girl. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Pan Africa Christian University in Nairobi Kenya and has been living in Boise, Idaho for the last eighteen months, after being admitted as a refugee through the US Refugee Resettlement Program in August 2010 in Kenya.
Mohammed suffers from vision impairment from early childhood but that did not prevent him from schooling, employment, marriage and family. He uses Braille and computers with screen readers such as JAWS (job access with speech) and other machines compatible for the visually impaired. In the past he had a limited vision which enabled him to find his way to a certain degree during daytime, but he lost that limited vision between 1998 and 2002 as a result of food poisoning.
After graduating from college in July 1997, he returned to his hometown of Keren. Toward the end of 1998, the security situation became very dangerous for minorities such as the Beja, but he started an educational institute called ‘Dabaywa English Center’ as a small business. He had begun as a boy of fifteen living in the Waddalhilew refugee camp of eastern Sudan and was now a business owner. In fact, he was the only one who knew the English Braille system in the entire country of Sudan at that time.
After arriving in Boise, Idaho, he looked for a job but found none, so Mohammed started a nonprofit organization for working with refugees and immigrants in Boise. The organization is called Lalumba Foundation for Refugees and Immigrants, Inc. and it is tax exempt. Further development of his organization requires a more stable financial situation. Staying without a job in Boise has affected his financial situation and his responsibility as a father. He is living on Social Security Income (SSI) and this is too little to be enough for him and his family members. He is living by faith; and even now, the Health and Welfare reduced his Food Stamps to $60 per month beginning today regardless of the fact that he has diabetes and needs to use some selective foods to maintain good health. Mohammed has applied for his wife and two kids to immigrate here legally and their files have been approved by the USCIS in Nebraska last May, but he remains separated from his family because he does not yet have the means to bring them to the United States.
Mohammed is just one example of how Beja Friends can help people who have managed, with the help of the U.S. government, to escape desperate situations where their lives and the lives of their families are in danger. But we also remember that there are millions of people like him living in eastern Sudan right now. Their government does not care about them, in fact, it actively oppresses them. We here in the United States are blessed to be able to speak freely – we have a voice. You, as our Congressional representatives, are that voice to their governments. A true friend not only helps you out when able, but also speaks on your behalf when you cannot. Beja Friends is here today to speak out for the approximately three million Beja who have no voice.
- Utilizes brutal proxy wars against the indigenous Beja people, as it has against the people of Southern Sudan, Darfur, Southern Kordofan (Nuba Mountains), Blue Nile, and the far North (Nubia );
- Forces assimilation of indigenous Beja African culture into the dominant Arab culture through such elements of Arabization as mass displacement of indigenous Beja and mass movements of non-indigenous Arabs (i.e. Rashaida) into the region, and through prohibition of traditional language and customs of the Beja;
- Uses security organs to torture Beja people into accepting the Islamic ideology of the National Congress Party, an ideology linked with global jihad and terrorism;
- Conducts a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Beja through such means as direct killing (e.g. the Port Sudan massacre of January 2005), deliberate lack of health care and medical treatment, government-orchestrated famine, and preferential treatment of non-Beja people with the objective of empowering non-indigenous Rashaida Arabs to take control of the Beja lands;
- Signs peace agreements such as the Eastern Peace Agreement (EPA) and later abrogates them or changes the terms of the agreement to benefit those other than the Beja people;
- Exploits the rich resources of Eastern Sudan such as oil, gold, gas, and other minerals, as well as agriculture and livestock, to enable the elite in Khartoum to maintain power and dominance, and to continue to prosecute the war in the western Sudan region of Darfur, as well as to fund terrorist activities both domestically and internationally.
Beja Friends respectfully requests that members of Congress that acknowledge the indigenous Beja people of Eastern Sudan with a Congressional Resolution and/or other legislative means that will:
- Recognize the Beja as a marginalized Sudanese African people group, oppressed and persecuted by the National Congress Party (NCP) Government of Sudan.
- Highlight the Beja’s need for urgent humanitarian assistance.
- Condemn the 2005 Port Sudan massacre in which 22 Beja were killed and over 400 injured by NCP forces at a peaceful protest.
- Express deep concern over the sale of Beja land by the NCP to Arab investors.
Also, we urge the President and State Department to exert political pressure on the NCP government to cease human rights abuses and political, social, and economic marginalization of the Beja, so that a return to sustainable economic development, peace and security is realized. Specifically, that the U.S. government:
- Demand the NCP allow free, safe access to Beja areas by humanitarian relief and development organizations.
- Request that the NCP provide evidence that funds received from the recent Donor Conference for the Reconstruction of Eastern Sudan in Kuwait will not be used for the prosecution of war against the Beja by Rashaida Arabs who have been linked to terrorist organizations and smuggling of weapons to Hamas.
- Encourage the international community, including the Troika countries, the African Union, the European Union, and the United Nations Security Council to join the United States in a concerted effort to apply smart, targeted pressure on the NCP government to guarantee their cooperation in respecting Beja human rights.
I thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today about the Beja. With your help, anyone who wishes to befriend the Beja could help them not only here in our country but also in their own. East Africa can seem like such a confusing place at times, but the Beja are a warm, friendly people who know how to be friends. We want them to know there are Americans who care about them and want to grow together in friendship with them. We look forward to the day when their government will not stand in our way and we hope that our government will help make that happen. Thank you.
David Condron is the Director of Beja Friends, an organization that seeks to raise awareness about Sudan’s marginalized minority.