They’re not Iraqis but they suffered under jihadist rule just like other Mosul residents. Now they have lost everything they spent decades working for and long for their native Sudan.
Most of them moved to Iraq in the 1980s, when the country was something of an economic powerhouse and an attractive destination for many labourers from poorer countries in the region.
When the Islamic State group took over Mosul in June 2014, the city’s Sudanese residents stayed. And when civilians from their neighbourhood of west Mosul fled the fighting last month, they left with them.
Now they live in administrative limbo, huddled together on foam mattresses thrown on the gravel inside a huge United Nations tent at the Hammam al-Alil displacement camp south of Mosul.
“We came here to build something but now we have lost everything,” said Yaacub Mohammed Adel, who is originally from Khartoum and ran a tea shop in the Mosul al-Jadida neighbourhood until mid-March this year.
“We want compensation for the property we lost… We want to go back to Sudan, but not empty-handed,” he said.
The western side of Mosul, including the same neighbourhood where a lot of them lived and worked, has suffered extensive damage from air strikes and shelling.
Ahmad Abdallah moved to Iraq from the troubled Sudanese region of Darfur, which has also been torn by conflict and mass displacement in recent years.
“The country during Saddam was good,” said the 53-year-old Abdallah, referring to former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.
– ‘They took pity’ –
“There was work available in Baghdad, in Basra, in Mosul… It was safe. There were about 50,000 Sudanese on Iraqi soil at that time.”
He said that the jihadists who made Mosul the de facto Iraqi capital of their self-proclaimed “caliphate” never specifically took aim at their small community.
“In Mosul, we Sudanese were never very religious. But Daesh (IS) never even asked us not to shave, we did not have to pledge allegiance. Most of us are old, I guess they kind of took pity,” the greying man explained.
“They just ignored us,” Abdallah said.
Now the group of ageing Sudanese workers fear they will continue to be ignored and most of them are mulling a return to Sudan.
“El-Fasher (the capital of Sudan’s North Darfur province) is a thousand times better than Mosul now… In the end Sudan is my country,” he said with a resigned smile. “I miss my family, it’s been a long time.”
Nobody in the group of around 15 has been back once since they left Sudan, and under IS rule in Mosul they could not call home because mobile phones were banned.
“When I first got out I called my family and they didn’t know I was alive,” said Adel. “They thought I was missing.”
– Compensation or return –
Ibrahim Zakariah, from another part of Darfur, lost everything but his sense of humour in the fighting that swept west Mosul over the past two months.
“You see, I had only this shirt when I fled and I bought those plastic sandals here,” he said, giving a tour of his little corner of the tent.
“But I have a room with a view of the sea,” he joked, pointing to a puddle of rain water that formed overnight right next to his mattress.
He moved to Iraq in 1987 and spent several years in Baghdad’s Battaween neighbourhood, which is still the capital’s main hub for daily labourers from Egypt and Sudan.
He is still undecided about a possible return to Sudan and clings to hope that a promised meeting with a Red Cross delegation could yield some compensation.
“Nobody helps us here and all we had is gone,” said Zakariah.
“But I’m an old man, maybe I’ll rebuild something in Mosul if I get a chance. We have faced many wars in Iraq. If there’s another one it’s OK, we are used to it.”
The 55-year-old man, a white scarf wrapped around his head, said he lost touch with his family a long time ago.
“I think they are dead, I don’t know. If I go back, maybe I’ll stay with my sister. If she still knows who I am.”