Thousands flee crisis-hit Sudan in 'brain drain'

Published Mar 09, 2013 05:21am

—Reuters (File Photo)

KHARTOUM: Asaad Abdulmajid is saying goodbye to Sudan and its crisis-hit economy after having found a job in Saudi Arabia with a salary he says is more than 20 times what he earned from a government hospital at home. Abdulmajid, 29, has joined tens of thousands of Sudanese medical workers, technicians, academics and others fleeing the country for better opportunities abroad, according to official statistics.

“Here in Sudan my total monthly salary was 600 pounds,” about $86 at the black market exchange rate.

“Now I have a contract with a private hospital in Saudi Arabia that will pay me 8,000 rials ($2,133),” the doctor said at a government office crowded with Sudanese completing their paperwork to emigrate.

The mounting exodus among medical workers is “a real brain drain from Sudan”, said El Sheikh Badr, a doctor with the health ministry.

The outflow coincides with a worsening economy since South Sudan separated nearly two years ago, taking with it about 75 per cent of united Sudan's oil production.

Sudan's currency, the pound, has lost about 40 per cent of its black-market value since late 2011, and inflation reached 43 per cent in January. Estimates of unemployment range up to 40 per cent.

“I graduated from agricultural college in 2008 and I still haven't got a job,” Abdelmoneim Ahmed, 30, said at the emigration office where he prepared to leave for neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

He said his family paid 20,000 pounds for a permit allowing him to live and look for a job in the Saudi kingdom.

More than 94,000 workers left Sudan last year, compared with about 10,000 in 2008, according to a labour ministry study.

It highlighted a rising number of migrants in the higher education, health and technical sectors, though these skilled categories are still a minority among those leaving.

“The national economy is losing so much as a result of this migration,”which has worsened in the past two or three years, said University of Khartoum economist Mohammed Eljack Ahmed.

He said labour ministry figures might not even reflect the true extent of the movement, which is also driven by non-economic factors.

Jobs in government institutions are often believed to be allocated on political, tribal or ethnic grounds rather than merit, an “injustice” driving away members of the intelligensia, he said.

At the same time, the government spends a negligible proportion of its budget on education and health, Eljack Ahmed added.

'I don't think I will return'

Analysts say the majority of Sudanese government spending goes towards security and defence.

According to the labour ministry study, 1,620 doctors left Sudan last year compared with 338 in 2008.

Nurses and other skilled health workers are also moving abroad as part of what Badr called “massive migratory flows” of medical personnel.

“The magnitude is of real concern to the Ministry of Health”, said Badr, the ministry's deputy director general for human resource development.

Low salaries are not the only reason for the flight, said Anshu Banerjee, the World Health Organisation's representative in Sudan.

“If the drugs are not there, if the instruments are not there, if you're trained as a doctor and you don't have the means to perform your profession, then of course, it becomes demotivating,” he said.

Nationwide there were 1.3 health workers per 1,000 people in 2011, against the WHO benchmark of 2.3.

“I think it is hard to find one person in Sudan who is not tempted to work abroad”, said Badr.

Labour ministry figures show Saudi Arabia is the largest beneficiary of Sudanese migrants but thousands have also left for the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Libya and elsewhere.

Mohammed Adam Osman has spent the past five years as an accountant in Qatar.

He said he is earning a far higher salary in the energy-rich Gulf state and is also able to provide his children with a “good education”, something he couldn't offer them back home.

“What I know about the situation in Sudan, I don't think I will return,” he said.

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