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Sudanese Christian Slaves Saved in Modern-Day Underground Railroad: 'It's Extremely Dangerous Work'

AP Photo/Maura Ajak, File
AP Photo/Maura Ajak, File

An organization combatting Christian persecution across the globe recently announced it helped free 1,500 Sudanese slaves last year, bringing the total liberated over the past three decades to over 100,000.

Listen to them on the latest episode of “Quick Start”:

Joel Veldkamp, head of international communications at Christian Solidarity International (CSI), told CBN News Christians and followers of indigenous religions in South Sudan have been the hardest hit over the past few decades by dangerous slave raids.

And, as he shared, the history behind the matter is quite complex.

“Today, we have two countries — Sudan and South Sudan,” Veldkamp said. “But in the 1980s and 1990s, it was all just one country called Sudan, and that country was split by a civil war between the north, which is mostly Muslim and dominated by Arabs, and the south, which is mostly Christian and black African.”

He said the Muslim government in the north started to use slavery as a “weapon of war” against the south, capturing tens of thousands of people during the conflict, which ended in 2005.

Even nearly 20 years later, Veldkamp said many slaves are still “stuck” in captivity, enduring painful and arduous lives.

“The nightmare really [began] when the abduction happened during the was,” Veldkamp said. “These were usually attacks on villages by raiders on horseback or on camels; sometimes, they came in trains and they would force people into a cargo train and take them back into the north.”

He continued, “You would see lots of people being killed, lots of people being brutalized, trying to break down the spirit of the people before they’re enslaved.”

Watch Veldkamp explain:

Veldkamp said those coming out of slavery have later recounted lives filled with violence while in captivity and “daily terror,” including sex abuse and refusals to allow slaves to practice the Christian faith.

“A lot of the boys, especially, are forced to convert to Islam and practice Islam,” he said, sharing one particularly disturbing story of abuse. “[One man] once ran away instead of washing the dishes like his master wanted him to and his master cut off his pinky finger.”

CSI works to try and free those facing these difficult and even deadly circumstances. Through an underground network created decades ago, Veldkamp’s organization helps free these slaves.

It all started when goat traders came in contact with “sympathetic Muslims who went around North Sudan collecting people and bringing them home.”

A cattle vaccine is often exchanged for human freedom, with slaves walking at night on foot toward the border to evade secret police and the military.

“It’s extremely dangerous work,” Veldkamp said, noting that the efforts are helped by Muslims who are horrified over the treatment of these slaves.

CSI began helping fund this network, offering the resources needed to buy the vaccine. Once over the border in South Sudan, CSI makes sure these individuals get medical care and resources.

“We give them what we call a survival kit that has farming tools, and a tarp, and other essentials inside,” Veldkamp said, noting the network itself is locally run. “And we give every person who comes out a female goat so that they can have some food or maybe make some milk.”

Find out more about CSI’s work here.

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