UNAMID peacekeepers drive through Kalma camp nr Nyala, S. Darfur 14 Nov 2008 - Sudan's camps breed long-term dangers
Photos: UN-African peacekeepers drive through Kalma refugee camp in Darfur, Sudan, Friday, Nov. 14, 2008. (AP Photo/Sarah El Deeb)
Darfur camps breed long-term dangers
November 15, 2008 (AFP) report via Sudan Tribune:
(KALMA CAMP, southern Darfur) — Camps that shelter tens of thousands of Darfuris made homeless by the brutal conflict in western Sudan are seething dens of frustration that aid workers fear will breed long-term insecurity.
New-found cooperation by Khartoum is quickening the deployment of the UN-led peace mission, but a recent upsurge of violence is stifling humanitarian work among the vast numbers classified as internally displaced people (IDPs).
Civilians complain that life is getting worse despite a government peace initiative and the African Union-United Nations mission (UNAMID), as they struggle on without jobs on half the UN basic food rations handed out in April.
"Five years in the camp is like prison," said 25-year-old volunteer English teacher Atayeb Mohammed Adam in Kalma camp, where 92,000 people huddle on dusty plains 13 kilometres (eight miles) from Nyala, capital of South Darfur.
"We’ve been dragged into these IDPs camps, which is completely inhuman. As youths, we are unable to move around. We are suffering from a lack of jobs. If women go outside, they are raped. If youth go outside, they are killed.
"People are afraid. They are very sad because there is no work, no freedom and no skills to learn... People are angry and confused."
Darfur’s conflict erupted when rebels rose up against Khartoum in February 2003, fighting for wealth, power and resources. UN officials estimate that up to 300,000 people have died and fighting has degenerated into a vastly more complex web.
Across Africa, central Asia and the Middle East, many refugee camps have been a source of militancy and radicalism and aid workers fear such a trend in Sudan.
"By staying so long, the IDPs become a target for mobilisation by the (armed) movements," UNAMID civil affairs chief Wariara Mbugua said. "They become a target for infighting among the IDP leadership and that destabilises the entire management of the IDP camp."
Crime is rising. One of the largest schools in the North Darfur camp of Abu Shouk was burnt down. Local leaders tell UN officials they are worried about weapons coming into camps. Ethnic rivalry is bubbling to the surface.
UNAMID has become so concerned about increased instability that it has set up a taskforce uniting all components of the mission and humanitarian workers.
"You are going to see crises of health, a totally uneducated population that is growing up because you have no schools... so I think all round there’s a very significant danger," said Mbugua.
"You have young people who are growing without hope and they are going to be susceptible to anything in the future, whether it’s criminal activity, whether it’s just picking up a gun."
Two months ago, government troops raided Kalma and killed more than 30 people, claiming the biggest camp in Darfur was awash with weapons, allegations never independently substantiated.
UNAMID lacks a mandate to intervene but is desperate to do what it can to provide security.
So it is pouring money and men into Kalma, establishing its first permanent presence in a camp, housing Bangladeshi police in freshly painted barracks. The Bangladeshis have planted sunflowers near the stinking portable toilets.
"We need a force well equipped and well armed to protect us in the camp... We don’t want to die again. We don’t want to be killed again," a barrel-chested Sheikh Ali, the main camp leader, told visiting senior UNAMID management.
"Things have started to change and now things are OK," says the sheikh, stabbing the dust with his walking stick, a swelling crowd craning their necks to watch the exchange between Western reporters and their leader.
Rodolphe Adada, the stocky Congolese ex-foreign minister who is the top civilian in UNAMID, spent more than two hours sitting under a thatched canopy as camp leaders reeled off a litany of woes over a din of hacking coughs.
Earlier he drove out in a 16-vehicle convoy, crunching over dirt tracks to see the debris of a UN-contracted helicopter that crashed — either an accident or an attack — in a field near Kalma, killing four crew members in September.
One witness expressed surprise at a UN routine of at least one night patrol, questioning whether it could amount to a real "24-hour presence".
"After two to two-and-a-half hours they had driven through the camp, stopping now and then to say hi, but never, never veering off the main thoroughfare," the witness told AFP, asking not to be named.
"They returned to the little UNAMID permanent shelter. I thought it was a break but no that was it. For the rest of the night people checked their email, watched music videos online, got a bit of sleep. I could not believe it."
Although UNAMID was billed the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world with a final strength of 26,000, only 9,287 soldiers and 2,355 police have deployed, with numbers expected to rise to 12,613 by the end of the year.
Kalma’s patrols are the exception, not the rule. Even at full strength, which no one expects until well into 2009, there will be 19 police units of just over 100 personnel each, for all the camps.
UN officials say more than 2.2 million have been displaced and although numbers are difficult to confirm, there are around 80 IDP camps in Darfur.
But weapons are also turning against the aid workers.
"We’ve had people with guns put in their faces, robbed at night — UN staff, NGOs this has happened to — and in some places it’s been a lot more frequent and almost daily... that’s worrying," said one UN official.
"When it happens almost every day and it’s targeting humanitarian organisations, is it a sign of someone just not happy with them?
"Or a sign it’s time for you to go? Or is it ’I don’t have food to feed my family so I’m going to take your laptop and I’m going to sell it in the market for 100 dollars or so’?" the official added.
The United Nations says the Sudanese government paints its attack helicopters white, making them indistinguishable from those operated by peacekeepers.
UN helicopters have come under fire in five incidents in two months. UN officials in Darfur say they are looking at possibly getting approval from New York to paint their aircraft a different colour.
"We’ve suspended road trips for humanitarians. Then if we start receiving threats to air travel the whole mission will be under threat," said one UN security official on condition of anonymity. (AFP)
Photo: UN police officer Adeniram Adejoice, from Nigeria, holds the babies handed to hear by two refugee women, while on patrol in the Abou Shouk refugee camp in North Darfur, Sudan, Sunday Jan. 27, 2008. (AP)