KHARTOUM, SUDAN (Worthy News)-- Some 1,500 Christians trapped in Sudan are on their way to neighboring South Sudan, as part of a massive rescue operation dubbed 'Exodus', an aid group told Worthy News.
The Christians bring the total of rescued believers under the program to roughly 3,800 – almost double the number originally planned, explained Barnabas Fund.
"It has been a great privilege for us to be able to help suffering Christians...begin a new life in a place where they can be free to practice their faith in peace and have opportunities to improve their circumstances," said Patrick Sookhdeo, the Fund's international director.
A convoy of buses and lorries carrying the Christians and their belongings set off Tuesday, March 19, taking them to a new life in South Sudan, aid workers said.
"They join 2,300 of their compatriots whom we, working with our partners on the ground, Africa Inland Church – Sudan (AIC – S), have either flown or bussed to safety," Barnabas Fund added in a statement.
WOMEN, WIDOWS, CHILDREN
Aid workers said they had been "prioritizing" the most vulnerable women, around two-thirds of whom are widows,
One of them, Ayen, had been living with her family in a displaced persons’ camp in Sudan for three years.
"Living was very difficult," she was quoted as saying through tears. "We stayed in the open air. Stayed in the water. Stayed in the strong sunshine. Our children were sick. We had no work... There has been pain and suffering."
Ayen said she thanked God for her rescue from Sudan. Like many others, Ayen had fled to the North to escape the devastation of the South during a civil war, which ended in 2005.
Displaced Southerners, who are mainly Christian and African, said they experienced much persecution and discrimination in the overwhelmingly Muslim and Arab North, where they live under sharia, or Islamic, law.
The hostility towards Christians intensified after the South voted to secede from Sudan in January 2011, aid workers said.
"All people of Southern origin in Sudan were stripped of their citizenship and given a deadline to leave. But those like Ayen who were living in desperate circumstance did not have the money and resources to transport themselves and their families to South Sudan," Barnabas Fund said.
It said the the Exodus rescue mission had been able to bring Ayen "and thousands of other needy Christians" to safety.
MANY REMAIN BEHIND
However tens of thousands more Southerners remain stranded in makeshift camps on the outskirts of the Sudanese capital Khartoum, Thursday, March 21, with rescue workers warning that they were in increased danger.
Sudan "ramps up efforts to rid the country of the remaining Christian presence in what appears to be a systematic campaign," Barnabas Fund said.
Sookhdeo told Worthy News he hopes more people will support the Exodus operation.
"There are thousands of others who need rescuing," he said.
Reprinted with permission from Worthy News' partner news agency, BosNewsLife.