The Person: Farha
It was early in the morning, when bombs started to fall on my village from helicopters and airplanes. The Janjaweed, the Arab militia, had our village surrounded. They were shooting at us. Whichever way we ran, they were there killing men and boys and brutalizing women and girls. My father was shot and killed. I saw it.
In the chaos, my family was separated. I had to run. The government soldiers were there too, shooting at us as we fled. Outside of the village, I found my three sisters and my mother. But we couldn’t find our brother.
We walked twenty-five days across the desert to make it to a refugee camp in Chad. We were given a tent and received some food and water. After a while, my mother went back to Darfur to look for my brother, and we haven’t see her in 41 days.
Now, I am taking care of my three younger sisters. I collect firewood and cook, wash clothes and fetch water. But these things don’t stop me from wanting to study. I want to be a teacher. But in a year there will be no more school, since there is no secondary school here in the camp.
Sometimes, when there are no classes because its too windy, I get together with friends. We tell stories about our villages in Darfur, about the way life used to be. We keep telling the stories, until–sometimes–we weep.
- How was Farha’s life in Darfur, before the attack, similar to a girl’s life in your own community?
- How was it different?
- From Farha’s perspective, her village was attacked and her people killed and brutalized because of who they are, a black tribe. How do you think that knowledge affects a population of children, which is left mostly untreated for its trauma? How would you feel?
- For the people in Farha’s refugee camp, is her story the norm or an extreme?
- Do you think enough people around the world know about personal stories of people displaced by conflict? Is it something that should be known more? Does it affect you? How?
- What can you do to help people like Farha?
Camp Oure Cassoni
Oure Cassoni sits on the Chad-Darfur border and is the most northern of the camps in Chad, placing it in the sands of the Sahara. It is an unforgiving land, where only small villages and communities can survive–separated by long distances–in order to live in balance with the environment. Monster-sized refugee camps like Oure Cassoni are not meant to exist in these lands.
After being welcomed warmly by the local Chadians, the years and large numbers of refugees from Darfur have created tension that often ignites in to violence, as resources are scarce, and both populations look to provide for their families.
In their villages, Darfuris were farmers that had learned over generations how to get the most out of a land with limited resources. They kept animals like goats, sheep, cows, and camels. When the refugees talk about what they miss from Darfur, they invariably talk about their fruit trees, their crops, and their animals. They also miss the spices they used to flavor their foods.
In the camps, they now gather their food by standing in lines and receiving the rations provided by the aid organizations, mostly from the World Food Program (WFP). Rations vary, depending on food availability, but often include bags of sorghum, wheat, yellow peas, oil, salt, and sugar. The logistics of getting the food shipped in to these remote camps are strenuous. Trucks travel across the desert through roadless expanses, exposed to the weather and ruthless banditry. The work by the WFP drivers is nothing short of heroic.
Once the food makes it to the camps, the refugees are given their rations once per month, following an organized system that takes one camp zone at a time. The refugee ration card becomes a cold replacement for their crops, trees, and animals.
Being at the edge of the Sahara desert, water is a valuable and scarce commodity. The non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in charge of providing water to the tens of thousands of people in each camp must perform engineering miracles. They dig wells and create water stations, but there is never enough. Depending on the season, refugees are given access to water one or two times a day. Women and girls stand in line to fill up their containers. For some, it is a long walk to their tent, often balancing the water container on their head.
When they first arrive at the camp and once they are registered as refugees, the displaced people are given one tent per family along with other basic items. At times, and depending on availability, they are given tarps that also serve as shelter. Over the years, the tents deteriorate, tearing and disintegrating. Refugees use what’s available in the land around them to strengthen their homes and build structures around them. They use mud to create bricks and walls; if available, they use sticks and grass. During the rainy season, water gets in to their homes and washes away walls. Repairing, building, and maintaining their shelter is an ongoing challenge for the refugees.
Health focused NGOs provide services in the refugee camp’s clinics. Groups like Doctors Without Borders, International Medical Corps, and CARE provide staff and resources. They also use some of the Darfuris that have experience with their traditional ways of healing. The NGOs are usually stretched to their limits and operating in extreme conditions. After the initial wave of refugees arrived in Chad, during which they dealt with unimaginable conditions, health in the camps has somewhat stabilized. The camp clinics continue to be challenged by on-going health issues such as malnutrition, respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, and malaria.
When you ask any refugee mother what she needs, you would imagine her response would include more water, more food, or better shelter. Many times it does, but only after she tells you that her children need to be educated. The Darfuris value education because they know it is the tool that will help them re-build a stronger Darfur. Even at the inception of the refugee camps, students and teachers would gather under the shade of trees for lesson.
Now, as part of their mandate to protect refugees, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) provides primary and secondary school for refugee children and youth. Refugees who were educated in Darfur are enlisted to become teachers, especially those who completed secondary school. The Directors are refugee leaders who work to coordinate the best education they can with the limited resources they are provided. Classrooms are mud structures with dirt floors, sometimes covered with mats during class. Classrooms share chalkboards, students look over their neighbors shoulder at communal books, and notebooks and pencils are passed between pupils.
- What are some of the challenges faced by the people of Oure Cassoni?
- Is Oure Cassoni “home” to the refugees? How would you feel and think about yourself, if you were a refugee?
- If you had nothing but a tent and limited rations of food, water, and clothing, what would you ask for from those that are willing and able to help?
- Why do you think that the refugees, overwhelmingly, ask for help in the form of better education for their children? Do young people in your community value education in the same way?
- Why do you think so many children in the camps appear smiling in pictures and video?
- How can you and your community have a positive effect on refugee camps like Oure Cassoni?
The Chad Camps
There are twelve Darfuri refugee camps in eastern Chad, located up and down the border with Darfur, Sudan. Refugees fleeing the destruction of their villages started arriving at the border in 2003, most of them walking days and weeks across unforgiving terrain. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) deployed to the region, providing life saving aid and eventually setting up what was supposed to be temporary camps.
People from different tribes and from all areas of Darfur continued to pour in to Chad, fleeing to the closest border point, creating the necessity for the twelve camps that now exists. The greater bulk of the population comes from three main tribes: the Fur, the Masalit, and the Zaghawa. There are more than a dozen other smaller tribes represented in the camps.
UNHCR coordinates all activities in the camps, distributing the assistance responsibilities among different non-governmental organizations (NGOs), all partnering and with permission from the Chad government to provide as safe and as healthy an environment as possible. UNHCR depends on donations from nations, groups, and individuals to carry out its mission.
- Whose responsibility is it to provide the basics for survival for refugee populations–even when as large as the 370,000 Darfuris in the 12 camps in Chad?
- What are some of the issues that arise for the host country and the local populations, when large numbers of refugees cross over in to a neighboring country?
- After 12 years of existing, what are some of the challenges for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), partner non-governmental organizations, the host country, and the international community related to camps that are supposed to be temporary?
- How can you, your community, and your national leaders have a positive impact on issues related to refugees displaced because of conflict?
The Darfur Region
Displaced Population: 3 million
It has been called “hell on earth” by a United Nations Secretary-General. Genocide was declared to be occurring there by the United States. It is a region of Sudan that is about the size of France or Texas, and its people have seen and lived mass scale horrors for over seven year.
Anywhere between 300,000 and 500,000 people have died due to the violence and the resulting starvation and disease. In 2009, according to the U.S. State Department, over 3,477 villages had been attacked, the great majority destroyed. Years later the conflict in Sudan’s troubled western region has never really stopped.
2014 saw a dramatic escalation in violence. According to the United Nations, 215,000 people were displaced by violence in Darfur in the first 11 weeks of this year. The sheer scale of these numbers is difficult to comprehend, especially in a place that saw half a million people pushed from their homes by violence last year. The UN has quit updating its Darfur death tolls and even experts on the conflict are hard pressed to provide accurate estimates. We just know that the numbers are growing by the day. Darfuris are living through a largely forgotten war. Waves of violence just keep on sweeping over them, but the world’s attention is elsewhere. The government of Sudan has kept complete control of the Darfur region. Comprehensive assessment of the results from the violence has been impossible.
What is known is that over 370,000 Darfur refugees are now living in Chad, and approximately 2.7 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) are living in squalid camps inside of Darfur.
Continuous fighting in the area, lack of access by humanitarian organizations, and little to no representation in negotiations has left the average Darfuri citizen in a dangerous limbo–with no end in sight.
- What is the difference between an internally displaced person (IDP) and a refugee?
- Whose responsibility is it to protect a population that has been displaced but still resides inside of its own country? What is the reality for the IDP population of Darfur?
- Who should decide when it is the right time for IDPs to return to their lands?
- Darfur and eastern Chad are not only remote and un-developed, but they are also unstable areas with on-going conflict and violence. How does security affect the work of humanitarian aid workers?
- What can your government and country do to have a positive impact on large scale humanitarian crises?
Conflict Displaced Population: Over 5 Million
For over 40 years, Sudan has been a main producer of conflict displaced populations. The current numbers are staggering. In Darfur, some 2.7 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and over 370,000 as refugees on the Chad border. The capital, Khartoum, is “home” to approximately 30,000 urban refugees, and Khartoum State has a population of 1.7 million IDPs, with most living in unofficial squatter areas and with little to no assistance. After two decades of civil war with the North, the South has seen a return of refugees from surrounding countries over the last five years, but instability, tension, and occasional violence continue to contribute to a population living at grave risk.
In January, 2011 the South is scheduled to vote on a referendum that will decide whether it separates from the North. This could mean the birth of a new nation, but there is also the possibility of renewed civil war, which could result in millions of displaced people.
UNHCR’s Sudan page
IDMC’s Sudan page
Refugee and Displaced Population: 13 million
A total of 13 million refugees and internally displaced people were being given shelter and assistance under the mandate of the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as of June 2014, the highest number since 1996. If they were a nation, the people that have been displaced by violence and conflict around the world would have a population larger than 85% of the countries around the world.
This population, after having more than likely experienced abuse and the loss of family, friends, and home are then exposed to more violence and abuse–as well as the ravages of hunger, disease, and natural forces–while living in areas that do not have the resources or access to support them.
Refugees, the displaced that have crossed an international border, are eligible to protection and assistance under international agreements and law, but the internally displaced do not officially enjoy that protection. They are at the mercy of the local government, and state sovereignty has ofter trumped the protection of citizens–who are often the victims of their own government.
- Is the issue of conflict-displaced populations focused in a specific region of the world?
- How could this issue affect you and your country? Why should you care?
- How can your country and the international community do better to reduce the number of displaced and get assistance and provide a prompt safe-return to those already displaced?
UNHCR on forcibly displaced population