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Darfur IDPs: voices from the desert

Fear of attacks by militia has driven up to two million Darfurians in camps. WFP's Mohamed Amasha spoke to some of those whose lives are in tatters and who don't know what tomorrow holds

Fear of attacks by local militias has driven up to two million Darfurians in camps. WFP's Mohamed Amasha spoke to some of those whose lives are in tatters and who don't know what tomorrow holds.

Their only shelter is from plastic sheeting, they rely on plastic containers full of water for drinking and washing, and they face a daily battle with the wind which blows the desert sand in their eyes and with the scorching sun which beats incessantly. This is how the displaced people of Al-Salam camp in South Darfur live.

I fled alone as I could not find my family. I don’t know what happened to them

Mohamed Suliman

Considering the conditions, it's hard to imagine people actually wanting to live there, yet by mid-morning, there are already several hundred people waiting outside to get in.

They sit under the spreading branches of baobab trees, which cover their faces against the wind and sand, waiting to receive water and sheeting from aid workers and to enter the section of the camp designated for newly-arrived IDPs – internally displaced people.

Desperation and fear

Since mid-January when nearby Otash camp was closed to new arrivals because with 46,000 people, it was filled to capacity, the population of Al-Salam camp has tripled to 10,000.

The hordes of people who come to these camps do so in desperation and they are propelled by fear.

Today's group is from a village called Sanam Al Naga. After their village came under attack, the survivors say they headed northwards – many on foot or by donkey-cart – travelling 140 kilometres to relative safety near Nyala, the capital of South Darfur. They arrived at the camp hungry and tired.

Copyright: 2007 WFP/Mohamed Amasha
Aisha Ali and her daughters

Kenro Oshidari, WFP's Representative in Sudan, says: “WFP is providing a 15-day emergency ration for the new arrivals and will be registering them for general food distribution once the influx is stabilised."

Fleeing for their lives

The stories of the new arrivals are sadly very similar to those already there – and to the two million others who have fled their homes over the past four years to escape the attacks

I am afraid
Mustafa Adam, 5

and rapes that have scarred this remote Sudanese region.

One of the new arrivals, Gamila Mahmoud, 20, says she saw attacks on other girls: “I escaped with my mother and my sisters after they came in the village and destroyed everything. I don’t know where my father is. I want to go back now to find him, but my mother does not allow that for my safety.”

One hundred kilometre trek

No one is safe from the violence. Seventy-year-old Basher Ali is an elder at Al-Salam camp. As he shares his story, other men passionately join in to help him narrate. The men clad in flowing white robes all talk vigorously.

“One morning, an armed group invaded our village. They opened fire indiscriminately, setting homes on fire and stealing what they could. I lost everything. I came here after three days of walking over 100km. I was very worried about my family. Thank God we managed all to flee safely,” he says.

Children kidnapped

Aisha Ali, 45, sitting nearby under a donkey cart with her daughters to protect them from the sun, hears Basher and tells her story.

“My husband was killed while he was working in the field. Those armed men attacked us mercilessly. They took everything and kidnapped my children as well. I am very worried about my two daughters. We cannot go back any more,” says Aisha.

Meanwhile, under a huge baobob tree dominating the plateau, 25-year-old Mohamed Suliman is full of energy and health and doesn’t yet seem worn down by the difficulties he’s faced.

“I was a teacher in my village," he says. "I fled alone as I could not find my family. I don’t know what happened to them. I want to go back, but I can’t because there is no security at all.”

Fear

However, the tiniest members of the camp are still fearful after being abruptly uprooted. Mustafa Adam says: “I am afraid. My father grabbed me and put me on his shoulder and we fled our home. I am very afraid that they [armed attackers] can come here any time and kill us all.”

Whatever their age, fear is common to all the residents of Al-Salam camp, as no doubt it is to those who live in the other 100 or so camps spread across the vast region.

Everyone longs for a day when they can sleep safely in their own homes and they can look at the horizon without dreading the appearance of men on horseback who will come and tear their lives apart.

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