Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May 2016, 12:25 GMT

Sudan: The Beja [Baja] tribe of Sudan

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 1 June 1999
Citation / Document Symbol SDN32207.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Sudan: The Beja [Baja] tribe of Sudan, 1 June 1999, SDN32207.E, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


An official of  Human Rights Watch in New York, who specializes in human rights in Africa, stated that the Beja are a nomad tribe which is found in eastern Sudan near the Red Sea, on the Eritrean border (28 July 1999). Currently, he explained, there is a civil war going on the Beja area between the National Islamic Front (NIF) government of Sudan, and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Consequently, the Beja have become victims of mass displacement, landmines, harassment and indiscriminate shelling by the current government of Sudan. Several members of the Beja tribe have taken refugee in Eritrea (ibid.).

The official further stated that the Beja have now joined the NDA,  an umbrella opposition group of several forces from northern and southern Sudan with a unified army operating in the Beja area. According to the Sudan Democratic Gazette, the NDA comprise the "Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), the Umma Party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the Sudan Communist Party, the Union of Sudan African Parties, the Legitimate Command of the Army, and a number of leading Sudanese Personalities who are active in the NDA in their individual capacities" (Dec. 1992).

The NDA, the Human Rights Watch official further explained, is supported by the government of Eritrea (ibid.). The ARB corroborates this information and adds that Ethiopia and Uganda also back the NDA (June 1998, 13100). Further corroboration of Eritrea's involvement in the conflict is provided by the The Indian Ocean Newsletter of 3 December 1994. According to this source, some Beja live in Eritrea and "many worked for the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) during the Eritrean war of independence and today, the military instructors for Beja dissidents are "Eritrean" fellow-citizens from the EPLF."

In 1994, the government of Sudan reportedly closed the border with Eritrea except for a few crossing points, but "mined camel-tracks across the desert on the pretext of fighting smugglers" (ION 3 Dec. 1994, 3). The Beja are reportedly disenchanted with the Khartoum regime because they feel that "they were special targets of the government's crackdown of the abortive coup d'etat of April 1990, when three-quarters of the army officers subsequently executed were from Beja tribes" and also because their traditional land has been bought up by Arab invaders, including speculators in the agro-food sector (ibid.).

The official at Human Rights Watch explained that historically, the Beja practise the traditional Islam mixed with other traditional religions, have not been arabized and  are not followers of Sudan's Islamic fundamentalism. He stated that the Beja live in an environmentally hostile area, have been neglected and marginalized by Sudanese governments, and consequently experience problems of poverty and extreme destitution (ibid.).

Sudan: A Country Study corroborates the above information and adds that the Beja belong to one of four groups including, the Bisharin, the Amarar, the Hadendowa, and the Bani Amir, and their language, Bedawiye links them to "Cushitic-speaking peoples farther south"  (1990, 75). The Beja tend to be a tribe that is "conservative, proud, and aloof, even toward other Beja and very reticent in relations with strangers,"  and who "were long reluctant to accept the authority of central governments" (ibid.)

The official at Human Rights Watch explained that at independence in 1956, the Beja formed the Beja Union and actively participated in the elections. He also stated that the Beja Union acted as a political group whenever a Sudanese civilian government was power, as social and developmental group, and also acted as a solidarity group to promote the interests of the Beja during military regimes (ibid.).

According to the Sudan Democratic Gazette, the Beja tribes reportedly "broke with traditional political allegiances" in the 1960s when they formed the Beja Congress to contest the 1965 election. "They succeeded in winning several seats in the national assembly but failed to prevent the DUP taking the lion's share of the regional seats. The DUP dismissed the Beja Congress as a short term phenomenon which would disappear with time and so deliberately ignored it" (Nov. 1994, 8).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please see below the list of  sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Africa Research Bulletin [Oxford]. June 1998. Vol. 35. No. 5. "Sudan: Referendum Proposal."

The  Indian Ocean Newsletter (ION). 3 December 1994. "Eritrea/Sudan: Tempers Fraying Again."

Human Rights Watch [New York]. 27 June 1999. Telephone interview.

Sudan: A Country Study. 1991. Edited by Helen Chapin Metz. Washington, DC: Secretary of the Army.

Sudan Democratic Gazette [London]. November 1994. No. 54. "The Beja Tribes: Background to Events in Eastern Sudan."

_____. December 1992. "NDA Affirms Commitment to Non-Religious Democracy."

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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