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The Darfur Refugees’ Plight

Anna Praz

4. Empirical Investigation

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4.1 Research question and hypotheses

1Having explored the linkages between repatriation and peace agreements, and the micro-level factors underpinning refugees’ decisions, this research is designed to allow hypotheses and assumptions drawn from the literature to help bridge the conceptual gap that exists between peace processes and voluntary return. Understanding the reasons given by the refugee community for their non-return can shape a “genuine notion” of peace that theoretical generalizations may not account for. In view of how the conflict has evolved in Darfur, taking into account the recently signed peace settlement, we assume that flows of returnees should be observed at this point in time. Hence, the macro-research question posed is as follows:

2Marco-research question: Why is only limited voluntary repatriation observed despite the signature of a peace settlement and declining intensity of the conflict?

3The first assumption is that a disconnect exists between, on the one hand, the peace settlement and the way conflict intensity is measured and, on the other, how refugees make their decision to return despite the fact that repatriation measures are being promoted by the settlement. Consequently, the following assumption is made:

4Macro-assumption: Refugees make an opportunity/cost calculation to remain in the camp or to return home. Their calculations compare possible living conditions in the host country and in the homeland.

5These cost calculations balance push and pull factors that go beyond “physical security” in absolute terms, and encompass socio-economic factors in and outside the camps together with the perception of threat on the ground. To encompass these factors, I will establish two hypotheses:

6Hypothesis I: During protracted displacement, refugees have created new social and economic relationships within refugee and host communities, while major relationships with their home country have been disrupted.

7Hypothesis II: Despite the signature of the peace deal and reduced intensity of the conflict, a climate of relative insecurity in their homeland is still perceived by the refugees.

  • 21 For simplification, economic and social aspects will be analyzed together though they represent two (...)

8The strength of the socio-economic and security-related components will be examined comparatively, assessing the relationships with and impressions refugees have of the host country and the homeland respectively. As elaborated above, refugees can maintain, break or reform social and economic relationships with their home village or country. Looking comparatively at these two human spaces can offer insights into their decision to return or not. The same applies to security. By comparing the perception of threat in the camps with that in their homeland, not only is the notion of peace from the point of view of the refugee better understood, but also more clarity can be gained on whether security is still a major obstacle to return. This exercise will also facilitate an understanding of which of the two components is prioritized among the Darfur refugees surveyed.21 These two hypotheses give rise to other micro-questions that will be useful during field research:

9Micro Research Question I: What social and economic relationships have Darfur refugees created within their camps/host communities and which have they maintained with their homelands respectively?

10Micro Research Question II: How safe do refugees perceive the camps and adjacent communities to be, and how safe do they perceive their homeland to be?

11The next sections will illustrate how these issues have been assessed, and the limits posed by the research design.

4.2 Description of field areas

12This fieldwork was carried out over five weeks in May and June 2012 following a two-month long work experience with CARE International in Chad over the summer of 2011. Most of the primary data was collected in eastern Chad, during field research conducted in six of the twelve refugee camps located on the Chado-Sudanese borders. All the camps were set up between 2003 and 2004, and the majority of the camps’ population consists of women and children under the age of 17. The refugees’ life expectancy is lower than 50 years of age, similar to Chad’s life expectancy of 47 (OCHA 2011). In general, these camps mostly host a mix of Zaghawa, Masalit and Fur populations, the largest ethnic groups in Darfur (See annex I and II). Unlike the local population which is Arabic and French speaking, the majority of the camp population speaks Sudanese Arabic, local dialects and some English.

13The first part of the fieldwork was spent in the capital, Ndjamena, where logistical aspects of the fieldwork, including access to the camps were resolved. In Ndjamena, I also started engaging with the humanitarian community on the issue of repatriation. The second part of the fieldwork was conducted in three different sites in eastern Chad from where I could access those camps within relatively short distances (2 to 45 km). The main locations were Iriba, Farchana/Hadjer Hadid and Goz Beida. Travel between different locations was done via humanitarian flights or road trips passing through Abeche, the largest urban center in the east of the country (see map 1).

14Iriba, the first site, is a small town located in the Wadi Fira region in northeastern Chad. The site is inhabited mainly by the Zaghawa tribe, situated on both sides of the borders. Within a radius of 45 kilometers from Iriba are located Am Nabak, Touloum and Iridimi, three refugee camps where I carried out my fieldwork. The refugee camps held a total population of over 70,000 refugees from Darfur, mainly from the Zaghawa tribe (CARE 2012). The camps are divided into ten zones, with health, education facilities, markets and water points (see annex VII).

15Farchana is situated in the Ouaddai region, about 110 kilometers east of Abeche. It is the hub for numerous humanitarian bodies that serve four surrounding refugee camps. The camps surveyed are called Treguine and Bredjing, close to the village of Hadjer Hadid where I was based. The two camps contained a total population of over 54,000 refugees (UNHCR 2012) with Bredjin being the second largest camp in eastern Chad. The majority of the camps’ populations are Massalit people, who, similarly to the Zaghawa, inhabit both sides of the Chado-Sudanese border.

16Goz Beida, is located in the Dar Sila region, and is the southernmost site visited. It is a town that grew considerably in terms of size and infrastructure as a result of the humanitarian crises affecting local and refugee populations over the past decade. The camp of Djabal is located a few kilometers from the town, and hosted about 18,000 refugees, mainly from the Masalit and Fur tribes, with a minority of Dajo and Tama. Geo-physically, the area is less desertified than Iriba with more fertile soil and green shrubs, especially in the rainy season. In the vicinity of Goz Beida are also several IDP sites hosting Chadians who were displaced as a result of the spillover of the conflict in Darfur.

Map 1: Surveyed sites

Map 1: Surveyed sites

4.3 Description of methods and data collection

17The data collected during the research is both qualitative and quantitative. The quantitative data includes factual details about the camp experience, as well as data pertaining to when and where refugees situate themselves in the decision to repatriate. This data was mostly, although not exclusively, used to respond to the first micro-research question on economic and social ties inside and outside the camps. Qualitative data, on the other hand, permeates the entire investigation, and is captured in the guiding questions of how and why refugees perceive insecurity, how integrated they feel in the camps, or, where applicable, what causes their alienation. Information was mainly gathered using a structured questionnaire, which constitutes the main sample source, complemented by focus groups, interviews with key personalities, field notes, and reflections and photographs collected during participatory and non-participatory observation. The next subsection will describe in more detail how the sampling was carried out, the structure of the main questionnaire, and how other methods were used to test the hypotheses advanced.

(a) Sampling

Fig. 4 : Typical power structure in a refugee camp community

Fig. 4 : Typical power structure in a refugee camp community
Umdas 22232425

(b) The survey

18The survey attempts to gather systematic information on aspects of displacement mentioned in the hypotheses. Hence, it is divided into five sections starting with general demographic data about the respondents, their perception of belonging, refugees’ social ties, their economic ties and their perception of security in the host country and the country of origin.

  • 26 The questionnaire is mindful of the social and political context in which this refugee crisis is em (...)

19Question types used include multiple choice, binary questions, paragraph text, grids and subjective scaling. Thus, the survey contains both subjective and objective measures of the level of socio-economic integration in eastern Chad and of continued ties with Darfur. The survey occasionally asks about the future intentions of the refugees and their opinions about a return to Darfur. In the last section, in particular, the respondents are asked to list the elements they believe are necessary to facilitate return. In addition, to assess the level and persistence of ethnic division which has been a hallmark of the conflict, some questions refer specifically to contact with Arab populations and with the main Darfur tribes (Zaghawa, Fur, Massalit).26

20The sections of the survey can be summarized as follows:

211. General information about the respondent: gender, age, ethnicity, place of origin, camp name and date of arrival in the camp. To ensure the confidentiality of the data the questionnaire is anonymous, but detailed enough to enable age and/or gender disaggregated analysis.

222. Sense of belonging: this section aims to assess the average personal feeling of attachment to the homeland and the camp respectively. Since the imagery of “home” is very subjective and often socially constructed, the respondent is asked to give at least three elements that he/she associates with “feeling at home”. Later the respondent is asked to give a subjective assessment of the attachment perceived to Darfur and to the camp. To understand the influence of protracted displacement on the sense of belonging and to measure the extent of border crossing by refugees, the respondent is specifically asked to mention the last time he/she was in Darfur.

233. Social ties: this section explores the strength and quality of social ties created inside the camp and with the adjacent Chadian communities, the level of participation in camp activities and trust in other refugees. Since the refugee population in eastern Chad is only a small proportion of the overall displacement within Darfur, the respondent is asked to specify where his/her close and extended family members are located, and the frequency of contact with them. Finally, I ask about the type and quality of relationships with people in Darfur.

244. Economic ties: similarly to the previous section, this segment aims at assessing the current level of economic relationships within the camp, with Chadian local communities and with the population residing in Darfur. Frequency of travel and the importance of such relationships on income generation are explored. In addition, this section explicitly asks whether the war disrupted any economic links with the homeland, and whether or not they have improved since the arrival to the camp.

255. Security: this last section aims to assess the average perception of threat the refugees attach to their homeland and to their current locations. I asked them to evaluate, on a scale from 1 to 5, the level of security perceived in Darfur today, in adjacent villages in Chad and inside the camp. In addition, the respondent is asked to explain the reasons for such perceptions and how he/she assesses security in Darfur (traveling, news, NGO/IO reports, reports from other refugees, telephone calls with family or friends in Darfur, etc.) Finally, the respondent is asked to mention the conditions he/she believes necessary for repatriation, and the impact security has on the repatriation decision.

266. The questionnaire was distributed to all refugees in its Arabic version. The English version was translated by an Egyptian Arabic speaker, and later reviewed by a Sudanese university professor in Ndjamena. A complete version of the survey in English and a completed version in Arabic can be found in annex II and III.

(c) Focus groups and interviews with key personalities

  • 27 At the time of this investigation, about 70% of children between 3 and 17 years of age had received (...)
  • 28 In Touloum, Iridimi and Am Nabak, focus groups have been facilitated mainly by CARE’s staff, in Tre (...)

27In addition to the structured questionnaire distributed to the refugees, I also set up a number of focus groups in the camps for women, students, influential refugee personalities and merchants. This exercise allowed a better understanding of the context in which refugees make their decisions to return. It also gave refugees the opportunity to freely express their own understanding of the context and of the challenges they face in returning and even staying in the camp. These groups opened up the exercise to other segments of the camp populations, especially the illiterate; - a large proportion of the women in the camp, in fact, cannot read and write.27 Lastly, it enabled the refugees to share their evaluations and critiques of, and questions regarding, my field research. This often created a climate of mutual trust that enabled us to go beyond superficial notions of what they experience as refugees and I as an observer. Focus groups were usually facilitated and translated from English/French into Arabic by either NGO staff or by an English speaking refugee.28 Other field techniques included map drawings from the refugees, field notes, and photographs taken during participatory sessions in the camps.

28I also consulted, on an individual basis, the humanitarian community, Chadian government officials and the military - both in the capital Ndjamena and in the field. Among the interviewees were officials from the UNHCR, OCHA, UNICEF, ICRC, CARE, JRS, IRC, RET, the CNARR, the Chadian police in eastern Chad (DIS), and military personnel operating on the border (the Joint Force, or ‘Force Mixte’). The interviews were usually open-ended or semi-structured, carried out in English or French, and gathered an actor-specific perspective of the repatriation issue in the current regional context and in light of the international peace agreement. In the context of this research, both focus groups and interviews provide a complement to the interpretation of primary data collected through the surveys in the camps.

4.4 Sample overview

29The main sample is composed of the responses to 191 questionnaires completed in the camps: 22 in Am Nabak, 48 in Touloum, 13 in Iridimi, 23 in Treguine, 35 in Bredjing and 48 in Djabal. In percentages, over 40% of the surveys were carried out in Iriba, approximately 30% in Farchana/Hadjer Hadid and the remaining, roughly 25%, in Goz Beida.

30The geographical distribution allowed reasonable coverage of the ethnic composition of Darfur. Around 20% of the surveys were completed by Fur, who are less numerous in the camps in comparison to the Zaghawa and Masalit, who completed 36% and 39% of the surveys respectively. The remaining 7% were completed by other Darfur tribes such as the Dajo, Tama and the Borgo, which are also minorities inside the camps (see annex II).

31Concerning the gender distribution, the imbalance is more pronounced because of very low female literacy levels. Over 75% of the respondents are male with less than one quarter female. This discrepancy has been partially addressed through women’s focus groups and oral interviews carried out separately, particularly in Djabal and Touloum refugee camps. The latter, although not part of the primary sample, will be used to complement the analysis of the responses in the next section.

32Age-wise, more than half the respondents were aged between 26 and 50 years old, about 33% were adolescents and young adults between 11 and 25, and the rest were either 51 or older, or unspecified. Again, the written nature of the survey excluded children below the age of 11, who make up a significant proportion of the camps’ inhabitants. Most of the children are second-generation refugees who have never seen Darfur. As a consequence, although their perspective on never having known Darfur would have been interesting, the majority would not have been able to respond orally to the questionnaire which is conceived for adults who have experienced pre and post-exile phases. That being said, some hints of the children’s attitudes and aspirations are gathered from the interviews and from personal observations that are mentioned in the next section.

  • 29 Darfur refugees do not generally own the land, but are employed by Chadian land owners (see section (...)

33The socio-economic status of the respondents also varied. Most of the refugees have more than one occupation, such as farming and business, as occupations like farming will depend on the season and the availability of tenants.29 Some of the refugees are unemployed, or rely on daily remunerated tasks without any systematic salary. In general the poverty level is high, such that more than a quarter of the refugees surveyed declare themselves as “jobless” or relying entirely on humanitarian aid to survive (see section 5.2).

Table 3: Sample overview

Table 3: Sample overview


21 For simplification, economic and social aspects will be analyzed together though they represent two variables.

22 Usually the Umdas were previously influential persons in Darfur, such as Sultans, or Chiefs of villages. Focus group with Zaghawi and Massalit women, Touloum and Djabal camps, June 2012.

23 Interview with Adbel Madjid, CNARR representative in Bredjing camp, June 13 2012

24 For this reason, the social function of the respondent does not determine his/her socio-economic status.

25 See analysis and results in the following section.

26 The questionnaire is mindful of the social and political context in which this refugee crisis is embedded. As the root causes of the conflict hinge strongly on the split between “African” and Arab tribes, I have been careful to measure this division without making specific tribal reference. Although not including all Darfur tribes, the questionnaire specifically mentions Zaghawa, Fur and Massalit – which the majority of the respondents identify themselves with – and then more generally “Arab tribes”. In only one question do I list some of the largest tribes usually considered to be of Arab descent (Reizegat, Baggara, Taaisha, Malaaiya, Beni Halba and Habbaniya). Although the questionnaire is not exhaustive of Darfur’s ethnic diversity, most questions enable the respondents to make reference to other tribes that are not listed.

27 At the time of this investigation, about 70% of children between 3 and 17 years of age had received formal education in the camps, but statistics were lower for adults who did not benefit from camp educational services. Also, women are generally less educated than men. In July 2012 the total number of teachers in the twelve camps was 1,922, of whom only 37% were women. (Personal communication with Bienvenu Handoum, Education officer for the Jesuite Refugee Service (JRS), Goz Beida, July 12 2012)

28 In Touloum, Iridimi and Am Nabak, focus groups have been facilitated mainly by CARE’s staff, in Treguine and Bredjing by refugee teachers, while in Djabal by refugee teachers and JRS staff.

29 Darfur refugees do not generally own the land, but are employed by Chadian land owners (see section 5.2).

Table des illustrations

Titre Map 1: Surveyed sites
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Titre Fig. 4 : Typical power structure in a refugee camp community
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Titre Table 3: Sample overview
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