Home | Comment & Analysis    Monday 15 December 2003

Feature - Displacement in Darfur

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NYALA, Dec 15, 2003 (IRIN) — Intisar is 12 years old. She has never been to school. She used to leave peacefully on a farm with her mother and 14 siblings in rural Kass, southern Darfur, but then nomad militias arrived and started grazing their camels on her family’s land.

"We asked them to go away, so they came with weapons and attacked us in the early morning," she says. "Some of the children were thrown into fires. Five of my brothers and sisters were thrown into a fire."

Her mother brought her remaining children to the Intifada displacement "camp" on the edge of Nyala town, southern Darfur, to escape the violence. Here the family survives on food handouts in a tiny makeshift hut made of brambles and leaves.

"We lost all our assets - donkeys and goats. I am not happy, we are not receiving any help," she says.

"MOBILISATION PROGRAMME"

Fighting in Darfur between Arab militias and rebel groups, which escalated in March this year, has driven an estimated 670,000 people from their homes, 70,000 of whom have fled across the border into neighbouring Chad.

About 7,000 people have fled to the Intifada camp in search of safety - a dusty, fly-ridden, miserable collection of huts, cobbled together with foliage, sticks, floor mats and bits of material. Only the luckiest have found plastic sacks to provide themselves with extra shelter.

About 10 displaced families are arriving daily, the vast majority from western and northern Darfur, according to the local humanitarian aid commissioner in Nyala, Jemal Jusuf Idriss.

In the last month the Sudanese Red Crescent has found 182 children suffering from malnutrition in the camp, 28 of whom were severely malnourished.

A tiny medical clinic has been established by local authorities, as well as two hand pumps to provide water. But the 7,000 residents have to manage with no latrines.

So far the levels of disease in the camp are fairly "normal", says a medical assistant, but adds that he has no idea how. "We need workers to clean the camp of defecation, we need to pay workers," he notes.

The authorities are planning to move the displaced away from Nyala, so expenses are being kept to a minimum.

Idriss told IRIN that those who wanted to move would go to an existing camp in Domayah about 6 km west of the town within 10 days, while the others could go home after consultation with authorities in northern and western Darfur to make sure it was safe.

He says he’s under pressure to move the displaced quickly, but adds: "They’re saying they need to go back."

"It is not an order, it is a debate, a very long discussion between the authorities and the IDPs," he says.

While local authorities insist the process is voluntary, the Intifada inhabitants say they are being pushed away from Nyala town, because their presence is "embarrassing" for local officials. Too many visiting officials have already seen the conditions, they say.

They would rather stay close to the town, which is safer and where they can do odd jobs to survive.

"I don’t want to move. If we move again, they will attack us again. I feel safe here," says a displaced woman with eight children.

In northern Darfur, local authorities have started a similar process, dubbed a "mobilisation programme", to move the displaced back to their homes.

The deputy governor in the capital El Fashir, Elnour Mohammed Ibrahim, told IRIN that "after ensuring security and providing services, people are escorted to ensure their safety".

"One of the reasons they are encouraged to go back is the disappearance of the Janjaweed [militias] from northern Darfur. Our main concern is the relief of those people," he said.

Over 1,000 families have already been moved away from El Fashir to government territory around Korma.

QUESTIONABLE MOVEMENT

Despite the assurances from local authorities who insist the situation in both northern and southern Darfur is calm and peaceful, humanitarian sources fear that the movement of the IDPs could be politically motivated and involuntary.

"I am not satisfied that the movement of IDPs is entirely voluntary," said Mukesh Kapila, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan.

"I think we have heard enough to give us cause for serious concern that the way assistance and access is being manipulated is putting pressures on people to move or stay as the case may
be - mostly to move," he added. "And this is of course in violation of all international humanitarian principles.



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