Darfur: displaced people’s camps crammed to capacity, UNICEF warns

Darfur: displaced people’s camps crammed to capacity, UNICEF warns

UNICEF's Chaiban speaks with community members
With camps for displaced persons in Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region bursting at the seams, sometimes with 50,000 to 100,000 people apiece, it is more vital than ever to reach a settlement to a conflict that has already killed over 200,000 people and uprooted 2.5 million more, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

With camps for displaced persons in Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region bursting at the seams, sometimes with 50,000 to 100,000 people apiece, it is more vital than ever to reach a settlement to a conflict that has already killed over 200,000 people and uprooted 2.5 million more, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

“It’s absolutely critical that this happens now because we simply cannot absorb any more displaced,” UNICEF country representative Ted Chaiban said on his return from a visit to the region. “The solution is for the peace process to get back on track.

“It’s been very difficult for humanitarian workers in Darfur. I think we should be very proud that we’ve held the line, that we’ve kept malnutrition levels down and mortality levels down, that we’ve been able to vaccinate so many children and that we’ve been able to get children in to school in the camps.”

Humanitarian work has been stopped in some camps recently due to security concerns and Mr. Chaiban noted that people in the camps live in fear, especially at night, and spend their days engaged in basic survival activities such as collecting water, gathering wood, and trying to keep their families together.

But as the camps become more settled, people don’t want to feel disempowered, he added. They want to be able to better their lives and the lives of their children, and this too is a challenge.

The idea of schooling for children in the camps may seem like a luxury in a situation where food, water and shelter are hard to come by, but for the young people displaced in Darfur, UNICEF is trying to turn a tragedy into an opportunity. “There are more children in school now than ever before,” even more than in the period before the conflict, Mr. Chaiban said.

Through the efforts of UNICEF and its partners, many of these children are finishing eighth grade, the last year of their primary education. They attend basic schools made of thatch around a steel frame, but they are schools that work. Many children are now looking forward to taking their exams for secondary school.

While Darfur, where the Government, allied militias and rebels seeking greater autonomy have been fighting since 2003, is the story in the headlines, there are positive developments in Southern Sudan, where a separate two-decades-long civil war ended with a peace accord in 2005, and these should not go unrecognized, Mr. Chaiban noted.

“One of the most beautiful things I’ve seen is a displaced family coming back from their displacement in the north of Sudan. When they arrive, they have their belongings on their back, and it’s like having a family reunion. It’s a beautiful sight. And that’s an opportunity arising out of the peace process – and we’re part of that story,” he said.

“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity for people who’ve been in conflict for 20 years and have been in underdevelopment for 50 years, to say, hey, enough is enough. We’re going to move forward for a better future.”

The civil war uprooted some 4.5 million people overall, most of them within the country, but some 500,000 are estimated to have taken refuge in neighbouring countries.