Oppressive Uncertainty For Displaced People Of South Darfur

The current pervasive insecurity in Darfur, compounded by fears of future insecurity, continues to generate new waves of displaced people. At the same time the very existence of camps for the displaced, which should serve as safe refuges to internally displaced persons (IDPs), is increasingly under threat.

The majority of these IDP camps are currently at maximum capacity. Consequently, increasing numbers of IDPs are forced to find shelter and assistance in urban areas. The South Darfur authorities recently began to settle IDPs in areas around Nyala town, the capital of South Darfur. However, the settlement plans were not thoroughly thought-out and consequently the IDPs that chose to settle in these areas faced a lack of basic services. Now the authorities of South Darfur have again hastily proposed yet another resettlement plan to new areas around Nyala.

However, this new proposed resettlement will not help people who desperately cling to a tenuous hope that they will one day return to their own communities and rebuild their lives. By accepting resettlement now these people will forgo compensation rights and as de facto residents of Nyala, their status will change from IDPs to ‘residents’ and as a result they will not be given priority access to vital humanitarian assistance. In addition, displaced people must be in a position to make an informed choice about where they and their families will be moved to. MSF firmly believes that the resettlement of these people should be voluntary and it must be a sustainable thought-out solution that ensures they can begin to build a new life.

Resettlement of Displaced People must be a Voluntary Choice and a Sustained Solution
The bouts of violence that shook Kalma IDP camp (15 Kms outside of Nyala) in late October resulted in thousands of people being forced to leave the camp. On 27 October, 550 families from Kalma Camp were moved by the authorities to the Sakali South area on the outskirts of Nyala, where MSF has been running mobile health clinics. Since then these families have again been resettled in the same vicinity. The authorities have committed to providing water, health and school facilities.

While some assistance has already been delivered to these resettled families, it is not clear whether these services will be sustained over time. Yet it is vital that free access to these basic services is guaranteed until the displaced people can rebuild their lives in their new settlement.

In addition, the abruptness of this resettlement to the Sakali South area meant there was no proper coordination between any of the humanitarian actors in the area. The suddenness of these transfers means it's unlikely that those people who were resettled were able to make an informed decision about their own movement.

Housing and Hope Destroyed
The creation of the resettlement site in Sakali South seems to have raised the hopes of the internally displaced people on the streets of Sakali and the neighbouring districts, most of who live in poor conditions with inadequate shelter. As expectations were raised that a new camp would be set up in the area, thousands of people congregated and built makeshift shelters in an attempt to gain attention from aid actors.

However, on 10 November, whilst operating a mobile clinic in Sakali South, the MSF team was shocked to observe the arrival of a convoy of men armed with sticks who proceeded to destroy the shelters and property of hundreds of people. When the MSF team returned the following day, every shelter had been systematically demolished.

As a result of this forcible eviction from Sakali South, most of the people moved back to districts around Nyala. Despite threats and intimidation, hundreds of families have again built basic shelters in a nearby dry riverbed just 500 meters away from the MSF clinic.

These people informed the MSF team that they left their homelands due to violent attacks and insecurity over the last three years. Some people made their way to Nyala just a few months ago, following outbursts of violence in their villages. They reported to MSF that initially most of them tried to go to IDP camps but were told there would be no further registration of new arrivals at the camps and they couldn't stay. With no other options, they moved to Nyala town.

"In Nyala, there are a lot of IDPs living in empty districts or on the streets, but no one can see them so they are not registered. We want to stay here in Sakali South. Here we are visible, we expect that NGOs will see us." Man

"We don't want to be resettled in Nyala, we want food! Even if we are healthy, we are hungry and being hungry is like being sick!" Woman

MSF must have access to patients
On 29 November, the authorities prevented MSF staff from talking to the people who settled in the dry riverbed. This is unacceptable. As an independent, medical organisation, MSF provides assistance to people based on need, regardless of their place of origin, the time of their displacement or their official designation.

MSF's impartiality is linked to our capacity to evaluate the medical status and general conditions of a population, so that we can deliver quality medical services to assist those people. MSF cannot compromise on the need to be proximate to patients and their communities. This proximity is certainly not confined to health facilities, but includes wherever people with medical needs have settled.

In South Darfur, many people have been displaced several times, from one place to another, in their search for physical and material safety for both themselves and their families. Existing camps are overstretched and there seems to be no coherent plan by the authorities to create new hosting sites where food aid and health care are sufficiently organised.

The prime responsibility to ensure that the people who have been forced to leave war-torn villages receive adequate assistance lies squarely with the Government of Sudan – whether this assistance is provided in camps, in rural areas or in urban areas.

MSF has been providing assistance throughout Darfur without interruption since early 2004. But for the last few weeks our humanitarian response has been increasingly impeded in South Darfur. This is an extremely worrying trend, but we are determined to continue to provide humanitarian assistance as best we can. Clearly, the better access MSF has to the population the better we can address the emergency medical needs of the people of Darfur.