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The Darfur Refugees’ Plight

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Anna Praz

5. Findings and analysis

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5.1. The refugees’ notion of home

  • 30 “Official case” means that the return has been declared to the humanitarian and government authorit (...)

1Most Darfur refugees in eastern Chad arrived in the camps between 2003 and 2004. Since then it is reported that no official case of voluntary return has been registered; only undeclared cross-border movements, rarely culminating in a definitive departure from the camp, seem to occur.30 The first question to be asked, therefore, is: do refugees still envision returning home? Are Sudan and Darfur places they still consider “home” – a place to return to – or have the refugee camps become the permanent loci of life, fulfillment and sense of belonging for these populations?

(a) Darfur: our land, our home

2The responses to the surveys indicate that the nine years of displacement have not weakened the general desire to return. Over 85% of the respondents indicated repatriation, mainly to their original village, as their preferred long-term solution. About 5% expressed a desire to remain permanently in Chad, while the remaining proportion listed alternatives such as emigration.

Fig. 5. Refugees’ preferred durable solution

Fig. 5. Refugees’ preferred durable solution
  • 31 Land tenure rights were mainly distributed to sedentary populations, with the exclusion of some nom (...)
  • 32 The statutory system was set up mainly through the 1970 Land Registration Act, which states that al (...)

3The preference for repatriation is chiefly justified by the refugees’ attachment to their land. This attachment has historical roots in the so-called hakura (or land tenure) system, institutionalized during the Fur Sultanate in the 17th century. Sultans at the time conceded the right of usufruct over demarcated territories (hawakir) to notable individuals, in order to maintain control over areas which were sparsely populated. Soon Zagahawa, Fur, Massalit and other sedentary tribal chiefs became the main owners of the hawakir, with their households owning a land parcel or dar (Abdul Jalil et al. 2005, 40-45).31 Although this system began to be challenged after Sudan’s independence in 1956, with the practice of land registration,32 the tradition of privately-owned land remains very vivid in the memory of these tribes, whose notion of “home” is tied to the land. The respondents describe their “home” using words like: “land of my ancestors”; “my farming land” (fig. 6); often translated with the words “dar” and “hakura”. These references indicate a deeply rooted desire to return to the areas from which they had been evicted.

Fig. 6: Words used to describe the attachment to Darfur

Fig. 6: Words used to describe the attachment to Darfur
  • 33 Survey N. 101.
  • 34 Survey N. 2.

4Together with this sense of belonging derived from the land, refugees ascribe to the notion of “home” the place of their birth, childhood, and pre-war memories – a space of growth and affection that preceded the bitter experience of the conflict. As expressed by a Massalit woman from Djabal camp: “I spent my childhood there in my village playing with my peers, it’s my home and there I will return”33 Darfur is also described as a beloved, almost mythical, place: “a beautiful land”34, “my dear country”, “the land I love”. It represents a home that seems remote in space and time and whose identity is often construed through comparing pre-war experiences with living conditions in the camp. In this exercise of remembering “home”, much of what Darfur currently represents – destruction, occupation and insecurity – is sometimes overlooked in the hope that a status quo ante might one day be restored.

Box 2
“We had so much more in Darfur [than in the camp]: water, milk, tomatoes, mangoes, oil and wild millet. We also have more firewood. Here, sometimes we have to go search firewood too far away and be sexually assaulted (…) Here [in the camp] there are so many worries; our children cannot eat – the ration is scarce. The day I will be home, my worries will be gone. This issue strikes right to my heart.”
Focus group with Zaghawa women, Touloum camp, June 2012.

Photo 1: Woman carrying firewood, Touloum camp, Chad (2012)

  • 35 Focus groups carried out in Touloum and Djabal camps, June 2012.
  • 36 Several of the women interviewed were heads of the household following the deaths of their husbands (...)

5Life in the camp indeed straddles past memories and future hopes. For several respondents home is pre-war Darfur – a space for a socially and economically fulfilling life in opposition to the miserable living conditions experienced as “displaced persons” in Chad. This gap is mainly expressed geo-climatically and economically. A Fur woman in Djabal camp despises the dry and desert climate of eastern Chad and weeps over her lost land of “green pastures, rivers, valleys and all the elements of Darfur’s nature”. The natural assets of Darfur such as water, tree fruit, crops and firewood are also idolized when compared with the scarcity of and competition over resources refugees and indigenous populations are faced with outside the camps in Chad (see box 2). These concerns are mainly raised by women and young girls, who, quite consistently across the ethnic groups interviewed, bear the specific responsibility of bringing water and firewood to the camps, preparing meals and taking care of the household resources.35 Such tasks, they argue, were much easier in Darfur, where water and firewood were more easily available and their family members could support them.36

  • 37 Surveys N. 6, 11, 54, 67, 81, 93, 99, 101, 104, 125, 128, 136, 144, 145, 152, 160, 161, 169, 172, 1 (...)
  • 38 Surveys N. 9, 13, 26, 17, 28, 29, 31, 41, 43, 45, 56, 69, 63, 64, 65, 68, 70, 71, 73, 92, 108, 115, (...)

6A significant proportion of refugees, although not identifying home with the camps, have a less idealistic and more pessimistic view of what Darfur has become during the conflict and how mass atrocities have impacted their sense of belonging. Of these, 49% do not recognize Darfur as their home, unless it becomes a place with rights and entitlements for all its citizens. This group of refugees describes the “idolized home” as a place with “security”, “development” and “rights”, which they cannot recognize as existing in Darfur because of the human rights abuses and process of marginalization carried out in peripheral areas since independence. Among factors contributing to alienation, refugees mention “blatant segregation,” “racism,” “lack of freedom” and “protracted insecurity” dating as far back as the 1970s.37 The war, and the trauma it causes, also fosters alienation, identity loss, and post-traumatic stress disorder. These views explain the lack of (positive) emotional attachment to Darfur shown by the remaining proportion of the respondents. Several refugees were witnesses to gruesome acts of violence and killings perpetrated against their closest relatives and acquaintances, including rape, decapitations, and amputations as well as the burning of property and individuals.38 Others, especially those who were children at the time, remained deeply traumatized by the experience of flight, which could involve several days of hiding alone without food, water or clear directions (see box 3).

Box 3
“On February 2, 2003 my village, Habira, was attacked. The Janjaweed killed all the men, even little boys. Women were spared but their babies were thrown into fire if they were males. Older men were hung. We all had to dress up like women with a tarha [veil] and run away to avoid being killed (…)”
Testimonies given during focus group with teachers in Djabal camp, June 2012.
“I was a little boy when my village [Kab Kabia] was attacked. My brother and uncle were shot in front of me. I ran away but could not find help. I was crying and shouting, but found no help. I hid alone for a week without water and food. When the fighting ceased I crossed over to Aramba and found some people that had donkeys and camels and moved with them to Iridimi camp. I was alone. Mom became an IDP in Kab Kabia. My dad is in El Fasher. His legs, nose and ear were amputated.”
Testimony provided by Rajal, young man aged 22, during focus group with teachers in Iridimi, May 2012.

7Despite the efforts made to avoid re-traumatization, some refugees gave unsolicited detailed accounts of the last time they saw their homeland. These demonstrated that the war in Darfur could provoke a range of different, often contradictory, emotions at the same time. These include: the desire to return; frustration at not knowing when the might do so; desperation for the loss; and anger over perpetrators who go unpunished. In the confusion over how to feel about Darfur, and whether or not it can ever again become the “home” that some respondents refer to, it is clear that the crimes experienced firsthand by the survivors could result in dangerous and inter-generational consequences for their perpetrators, whenever repatriation may occur (Amnesty Int. 2008).

(b) The camp: locus of trust, locus of alienation

Photo 2: Darfur man walking in Am Nabak camp, Chad (2012)

  • 39 “Feeling home” was translated in Arabic as “feeling of belonging” (see annex III).

8In order to understand how this protracted refugee situation could affect the decision to return home, it is worth assessing the extent to which the camp has become a “place of belonging” or a second “home” for the refugees. Again, responses differ according to the subjective experiences of camp life. 63% of the respondents reported “feeling at home”39 in the camp because of the perceived safety, the presence of their fellow citizens, and the length of displacement. In fact, camps have seen increased security due to the permanent deployment of Chadian police, the DIS – “Détachement Integré de Sécurité” (Combined Security Detachment) – charged with the protection of the refugee population. In addition, UN personnel, INGOs and the Chadian government via the CNARR – “Commission Nationale d’Appui pour le Répatriement et la Réinsertion des Réfugiés” (National Support Committee for the Repatriation and Reintegration of Refugees) – have permanent offices inside the camps, which also contribute to this positive perception of security. The feeling of belonging to the camp also stems from the social stability perceived by refugees which is based on their trust in other refugees, along with their social and economic integration which has generally been very positive (see section 5.2). Finally, the length of displacement, which can be up to nine years long in some cases, often with no contact with the home country, has resulted in a strong attachment to the camps - especially among young adults who completed the survey.

Box 5
“We do not see our future clearly. We are refugees, we are powerless. No guns to fight, we are prisoners. And if you saw our houses, you’d also think that a prison is better (…)”
 Focus group with young adults, Djabal camp, June 7, 2012.
“We have no contact with the outside world. We eat sorghum, we teach. We eat sorghum, we teach (…)”
 Focus group with teachers, Treguine camp, June 12, 2012.

  • 40 In 2007 the UNHCR announced the infiltration of Darfur armed groups in Treguine, Bredjin, Oure Cass (...)
  • 41 Mr. Bedoum, IRC Wash Manager, witnessed a major weapon collection operation was carried out in 2009 (...)
  • 42 Oure Cassoni is one of the camps which have been relocated (UNHCR global Appeal 2005, East Chad and (...)
  • 43 Interview with Moustapha Moussani, CNARR manager in Am Nabak camp, June 2012.
  • 44 Interview with Abdel Madjid, CNARR manager of Bredjin camp, Bredjin, June 13, 2012.

9Among those who responded negatively to the question, the camp is seen merely as place of survival, powerlessness, dependence and even imprisonment (see boxes 4 and 5). Indeed, refugees lament having survived, but being unable to plan their future They are discouraged by the lack of educational (especially post-secondary) opportunities, are frustrated with their inability to exercise their citizenship rights, deplore the dire economic conditions in the camp, and feel increasingly abandoned and betrayed by the international community (see section 5.4). Allegedly, for some politically active refugees this frustration has increased over time with the de-militarization and de-politicization of the camps that initially (during the first phase 2003–2008) served the political interests of Chad and Darfur by openly harboring officers and combatants from major Darfur rebel groups such as JEM, SLA and SLM.40 Action was, indeed, subsequently taken to collect firearms and heavy weapons which were circulating freely in the camp41; to relocate some camps farther from the borders42; and, according to the CNARR and UNHCR codes of conduct, to prohibit political gatherings. Despite these measures the camps remain politicized as the flight and the return of the refugees are closely linked to the political situation in Sudan. As explained by the CNARR Camp Manager in Am Nabak camp: “The decision to return is very political: a great cause of divisions in the camp, which host supporters of both signatories and non-signatories of the peace agreement whereby the process of voluntary return is fleshed out”43 (see section 5.3). However, the inability to use the camp for open political and military action has generated a sense of powerlessness for many who were previously key political players in Darfur. The extent to which the camp is, in reality, a place of disempowerment is rather difficult to assess. In general, humanitarian workers notice a positive move in the opposite direction. When they first arrived, refugees were victims and passive recipients. However, the freedom and educational character of the camp have subsequently emancipated them, and “in contrast to when they arrived, now they strongly aware of their rights and duties”.44

Table 4. Home-feeling in Darfur and in the camp after protracted displacement

A. Did you feel “at home” the last time you were/went to Darfur ?

A. Did you feel “at home” the last time you were/went to Darfur ?

B. Do you feel “at home” in the camp ?

B. Do you feel “at home” in the camp ?

Table 5: Refugees’ quotations about Darfur as their “home”

Table 5: Refugees’ quotations about Darfur as their “home”

Conclusion I

10In spite of a lack of declared returns, repatriation in safety and dignity is the long-term preferred solution for over 85% of the respondents, as opposed to local integration and camp life. Whereas a significant number of respondents feel a strong attachment to the land where they were born, grew up and farmed, about half of the respondents do not identify themselves with today’s Darfur, where insecurity and discrimination are still a daily concern. A smaller proportion of respondents, especially young adults, spoke of the negative impact of the trauma they experienced on their sense of identity and of the limited opportunities offered in the camp. As such, these refugees voiced a desire to emigrate abroad. While, for some, Darfur is a quasi-mythical final homeland, for others, it is a victim of Sudan’s abuses. Many refugees expressed a desire to rebuild their pre-war circumstances by returning to their original village, yet only if certain conditions that can make Darfur “home” again are fulfilled (see section 5.3). In the absence of such change in Sudan, refugees are prepared to remain in the camps, which have become places of trust and relative safety for a significant proportion of refugees. For others, staying in the camp provokes a sense of frustration, dependence and powerlessness, which make protracted displacement a difficult experience. Overall, the harsh living conditions in the camps and the scarcity of resources in eastern Chad, contribute to the general reluctance to consider camp life or integration in Chad as a permanent solution.

5.2 Refugees’ socio-economic ties

Photos 3: Market, Am Nabak camp, Chad (2012)

11The aim of this section is to assess the relative importance of the socio-economic ties created in Chad and maintained (or interrupted) with Sudan in any decision to return home. This aspect is relevant if it is assumed that social and economic integration achieved during displacement are taken into account in the opportunity/cost calculation made by the refugees prior to repatriation.

(a) Relationships within the camp

  • 45 Close family members is understood to mean: parents, children and siblings.

12In order to better understand the social and economic relationships inside the camps, it is worth highlighting the high rate of family dispersion evident from the sample. Roughly 46% of the respondents have part of, or all, their close45 family members outside their camp, mainly in other camps in Chad, or in Sudan. Even more pronounced is the dispersion of extended family members; over 80% of respondents affirm to have extended family members outside the camp. In addition, over 80% of the refugees have lost close and extended family members as a consequence of the conflict (see fig. 7) These factors, coupled with the length of displacement, have clearly shaped the type and the quality of relationships refugees have created in the camps. In fact, the atmosphere among camp refugees is extremely convivial, supportive and collaborative.

Fig. 7: Number of respondents having lost close or extended family members during the conflict

Fig. 7: Number of respondents having lost close or extended family members during the conflict
  • 46 Refugees mention the practice of goodwill and charity towards widows, the elderly, handicapped, and (...)

13The vast majority of the refugees describe their relationships with other refugees as very positive in all social and economic aspects of life in the camp. Refugees describe the camp as “one family, “one body” or “one hand” due to the shared origin, customs, religion and fate. Inter-tribal cohesion is very strong among all the camp tribes (Zaghawa, Fur, Massalit, Daju, Borgo, etc.) resulting in inter-tribal marriages and widespread participation in camp celebrations, such as weddings, school graduations, end of Ramadan etc. (see box 6). Solidarity and support are shown during sad and difficult situations in the camp, e.g. participation in mourning ceremonies and the sharing of food, clothes and services with the neediest refugees in the camp.46 The strong social network created within the camps reflects the range of economic activities that refugees engage in with non-family members as livelihood strategies. These include farming, business, wood collecting, teaching, fetching water, handicraft, handiwork, transportation, construction and other. During their stay in the camp some refugees have strengthened their links with other Darfur tribes with whom they were not cooperating as closely in their original villages because of geographical distance.

(b) Relationships with other camps and with Chadian communities

Fig. 8: Level of socio-economic interactions with refugees from other camps in Chad on a scale from 1 to 3

Fig. 8: Level of socio-economic interactions with refugees from other camps in Chad on a scale from 1 to 3
  • 47 Interview with Umda Daoud Khemis, Djabal, June 8, 2012.
  • 48 For example in Oure Cassoni camp vehicles leave daily from the camp to Tine Chad, and then to Abech (...)

14Most respondents affirm that their social and economic relationships go beyond camp borders. 63% report significant social and economic interaction with refugees from other camps, particularly for family visits, educational meetings, business, and social consultations. Indeed, refugees across all 12 camps have been attempting to build cohesion and speak with one voice on a range of issues including political decisions, repatriation challenges, the peace process and how to engage with international organizations.47 Camps are sometimes spread out, but trips between them are possible; these are usually made using the vehicles of Chadian or refugee businessmen who travel regularly to different camp locations and towns.48 Refugees are, in fact, allowed to move freely in Chadian territory following the issuance of a travel permit from CNARR offices in the camps.

15Very positive social and economic relationships are also very common with Chadian communities in neighboring villages. Positive cultural integration has been facilitated by common ancestors, customs, religion and languages that the indigenous tribes of eastern Chad share with the refugees. The Chadian borders are inhabited by, among others, the Zaghawa, Massalit, Daju, Borgo and Tama, who are also among the largest tribes living within the camps. Economically, 40% of the respondents report important commercial relationships with Chadian communities, particularly for business and farming (fig. 9).

Fig. 9: Level of socio-economic interactions with locals on a scale from 1 to 3

Fig. 9: Level of socio-economic interactions with locals on a scale from 1 to 3
  • 49 Convoys of multiple trucks stop in the camp on a weekly basis to deliver merchandise from Nyala, Da (...)
  • 50 Interview with Jules Demba Kodindo, Program Manager for CARE International, Iriba, May 27, 2012. In (...)

16Exchange of products takes place in camp or town markets where the Chadian businessmen sell their merchandise originating in Abeche and Ndjamena for Sudanese products traded by the refugees. IRC Wash Manager in Oure Cassoni, explains how this camp, the northernmost in Chad, has been a strategic crossroads for the exchange of merchandise coming from Chad, Sudan and Libya.49 Around 15% of the refugees also share how they are farming and working in agriculture as laborers on land parcels that Chadian land owners allocate, usually in exchange for part of the harvest.50 Other activities include cattle trading, digging of common water holes, construction, transportation, and charity, including the sharing of humanitarian aid. Overall, economic and social partnerships with Chadian communities are described as positive by a majority of the respondents.

(c) Relationships with people in Darfur

  • 51 From January to May 2012 the ICRC sent 510 messages from the camps to Darfur and received 437 from (...)

17If extra-camp relationships on the Chadian side of the border are common and generally positive, the situation is almost reversed on the Sudanese side. Roughly half of the refugees say they have only sporadic contact with their families in Darfur, while 26% have no contact at all. In addition, 79% of the respondents have not travelled back to Darfur since their arrival in the camp (fig.11), which makes communication difficult in areas with no mobile network coverage where travelling is the only available option for obtaining family news. In some cases, contact with family is achieved through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), especially for the transmission of important family news or family verifications.51 A vast majority of the refugees explain that this lack of contact with family and friends from sedentary Darfur tribes is a result of distance and lack of security in Sudan (see section 5.3). Relations with Arab tribes in Darfur are often disrupted on ethnic grounds. 61% of the refugees surveyed appear to have little or no relationship with those tribes which they associate, en masse, with pro-government militias, namely: “the Janjaweed,” “the enemy,” or “the criminals” (fig.10).

Fig. 10: Level of interaction with Arab populations in Darfur on a scale from 1 to 3

Fig. 10: Level of interaction with Arab populations in Darfur on a scale from 1 to 3

Fig. 11: Respondents’ most recent travel to Darfur

Fig. 11: Respondents’ most recent travel to Darfur

18In general, economic relationships with people in Darfur are not common. Only a small proportion of the sample mentions active relationships such as business ties, educational exchanges with displaced communities, occasional cross-border farming activities, visiting relatives for money transfers and contacts of a “political nature”. 122 out of 191 respondents confirm that the war has cut all ties, especially with Arab groups, with over 43% insisting on the deterioration of these relationships over time (fig. 12).

Fig. 12: Respondents’ assessment of the evolution of economic relationships with populations in Darfur since arrival to the camp

Fig. 12: Respondents’ assessment of the evolution of economic relationships with populations in Darfur since arrival to the camp

19In fact, little has been done to reconcile these tribes and rebuild the socio-economic cooperation they historically displayed (see section 5.3). This breakdown in relationships testifies to a much greater economic and social crisis inside Darfur caused by inter-tribal asset stripping, crop and market failures, and the closure of important routes used for trade and remittances (Tufts 2005). Humanitarian aid makes up for some of the food shortage in the camps, but is often not enough to generate household income. Inside Darfur, where food distribution is hampered by restricted freedom of movement for humanitarian workers and civilians, the crisis causes even more serious consequences for the most vulnerable IDPs living in areas that are left out from food assistance, sometimes for consecutive months (Dabanga 2012).52

(d) Trans-border movements

  • 53 Interview with Tching-chackbe B. Lucie, Education Manager with CARE International in Chad, Iriba, J (...)
  • 54 Interview with Mahamat Nour Abdulaye, CNARR, Sécrétaire Permanent, Ndjamena, June 2012.

20Although the overarching majority of the refugees surveyed have not travelled to Sudan since their initial displacement to the camps, cross-border movements are reported by multiple UNHCR and CNARR officials and even by some refugees. Such movements happen without any travel permit being issued by the camp authorities. Rather, these are in response to specific needs in terms of education and health that cannot be addressed inside the camps, or for the purpose of family visits. An example is the journey undertaken by secondary-school students who have been travelling to obtain official school certificates in the absence of a proper Sudanese-like examination system in the camps. In early 2012, the camps of Touloum and Iridimi alone sent 295 students to Tine Sudan and Kornoi for school examinations.53 Refugees have also been increasingly travelling to the health facilities in Geneina and Fasher where they would reportedly receive free medical treatment for serious health conditions - a service that has allegedly been put in place for refugees and the displaced to incentivize return.54 Finally, as mentioned earlier, there are reports of businessmen and merchants who travel weekly and monthly to localities in Darfur, as far as El Fasher, for the exchange and purchase of goods that are not found in Chadian markets.

  • 55 Merchants travelling from Iridimi to Sharif Umra (Sudan) narrate: “Sometimes we travel from Iridimi (...)

21Contrary to what humanitarian workers and the Chadian government seem to have concluded, a deeper analysis of these movements shows how they are not symptomatic of a substantial improvement of the general security situation and living conditions in Darfur”. First of all, these movements are not widespread among the camp populations. Secondly, Darfur includes pockets of relative stability which refugees are aware of (see section 5.3). Journeys deeper into Darfur, such as those of merchants and university students are also fraught with risks, especially in the more far-flung areas of Nyala and El Fasher.55

Conclusion II

22The economic and social ties that refugees have built during the period of displacement demonstrate the refugees’ positive integration into the Chadian border zones. Refugees have generally forged solid relationships in the camps based on trust, cooperation and mutual assistance. Positive relationships have also been identified as existing outside the camps, both with refugees in other camps and with Chadian communities in the areas of business, farming and the management of common resources. On the other hand, contacts with the population still living in Darfur are much more limited and infrequent. Trade routes to Darfur do exist, but are subject to insecurity and restriction of movement. The majority of the respondents have not travelled to Darfur since their arrival – neither for economic nor social purposes. This situation contributes to a growing disconnect between the social ties created in the camps and family ties that have been disrupted. Furthermore, in spite of the limited resources that the camp can offer, refugees have established livelihood strategies and business contacts that benefit from their border situation, such as trans-border trade. Their refugee status, and the humanitarian assistance provided, creates a framework for stability and social protection which contributes to the reluctance to return home without the guarantee of livelihoods and cross-border security. Finally, the gravity of the humanitarian crisis inside Darfur, affecting over 2 million IDPs, discourages refugees from engaging in the repatriation process without tangible signs that the situation has normalized.

5.3 Perception of threat in Darfur

Photo 4: Armed man from the joint military patrols on the Chado-Sudanese border (2012)

23The refugees attachment to the ties created in the camps is not, by itself, sufficient explanation for their unwillingness to return. As outlined in section 5.1, the current feeling of belonging to Darfur is, for most refugees, rooted in the private ownership of land (as in the word Dar-fur, or “land of the Fur”) and in the hope of returning there legitimately. However, the current position of Darfur, within the broader Sudanese context, is a source of fear and alienation. This section aims to identify the main elements in terms of security which refugees give as the main obstacle to their return. Starting from their perception of security on the ground, several other elements of concern for refugees will be examined, such as disarmament, discrimination and land restitution, as well as the negotiated political settlement.

(a) Physical insecurity and persistence of conflict

24Sticking to the narrow definition of physical insecurity as “threat and the use of force and violence,” around 80% of the refugees consider physical insecurity as a major obstacle to their return. Despite UNAMID’s 2009 declaration that “the conflict in Darfur is over” – based on the yearly drop in conflict-related deaths – refugees in Chad do not perceive any substantial decrease in the threat to life inside Darfur (fig. 13).

Fig. 13: Is Darfur safe? Perception of the respondents

Fig. 13: Is Darfur safe? Perception of the respondents
  • 56 In the first half of 2012, the localities of Dilling, South Kordofan, Aurakoja, Kormon, Malam Menaw (...)
  • 57 In 2012 the Zaghawa Sudan Liberation Army – Abdul Wahid splinter faction (SLA-AW) – had its strongh (...)

25Consistently, refugees report the persistence of violations of human rights and freedoms perpetrated by local authorities and Arab militias in South, North and West Darfur. Violations mentioned by the refugees include killings, arbitrary arrests, rape of women, bombing, burning and looting of villages and discrimination against their fellow tribal members whenever they are deemed of sympathizing with the rebel opposition. According to the refugees, these violations are committed in a climate of impunity and in violation of the ceasefire declared during the peace talks. In the first half of 2012, at least seven localities in West and South Darfur and South Kordofan have suffered aerial attacks and ground incursions causing the death of civilians, the loss of livestock and the destruction of infrastructure.56 These attacks involve among others the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) battling pockets of rebel resistance that have opposed the Doha peace talks, operating in some remote areas of Darfur.57

Fig. 14: Refugees’ assessments of security-related information on Darfur

Fig. 14: Refugees’ assessments of security-related information on Darfur

26According to the surveys, almost 40% of the refugees assess security incidents by listening to radio news58, around 30% rely on the reporting of international organizations, 18% using telephone calls and family communications, while others are simply firsthand witnesses of the situation as a result of their travels (6%). Travelling to Darfur, the rarest of available options mentioned, is, however, the only way refugees can directly observe how the situation in Darfur is evolving. Merchants and students who left Sudan to join the camps all report how their journey was a complicated web of encounters with Arab militias, government forces and rebel groups controlling different zones and threatening travelers according to their specific political interests. All report the risk of travelling without a refugee card and without a specific purpose, which can lead to forced recruitment into the rebel ranks, or alternatively, arrests, and even killings by armed militias (see box 8). The refugees from Djabal camp have been concerned with the heavy presence of the Janjaweed commandos in several towns in south-western Darfur, particularly Nyala, Beida, Arara, Gubbe, Kabar, Geneina, Bolbol and Edd el Fursan (See annex VI). The presence of armed Arab militias across Darfur is perceived as a major threat by the refugees; 39% are not willing to return unless the Arab militias have been completely disarmed (see fig. 14. in section 5.3d). In fact, despite the pledges in 2006 and 2008 by the Government of Sudan to disarm them (ReliefWeb 2006; Sudan Tribune 2008), no successful attempt has been made to do so comprehensively.59 On the contrary, in 2008 the notorious Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal was appointed as advisor to the Ministry of the Interior, which concedes grounds for thinking that a section of the militias has become closer to the government forces. On the other hand, Arab-led defections exist, especially among a number of tribes that have, over time, become disillusioned with promises that “Khartoum failed to keep and over rewards it did not give” (Flint 2009).60 Reportedly, a significant contingent of Arab militias attacked government forces in July 2012 in the area of Kab Kabia, northern Darfur, where the movement called Al-Jund Al-Mazloom – or “Oppressed soldiers” – are thought to have their stronghold (Dabanga 2012).61 Other semi-autonomous Arab groups are located in the south, where inter-Arab clashes between Reizegat and Saada tribes took place in May 2010 (Dabanga 2010)62 and where, in 2007, the Arab opposition leader Mohamed Hamdan Dogolo, nicknamed 'Hemeti', defected to the government along with thousands of paramilitary troops (SAS 2010).63 Overall it is inaccurate to label the whole Arab presence in Darfur with the demonizing term “Janjaweed”. Most of these troops are in turn victims of abuse and political manipulations at higher levels.64 However, from the perspective of the refugees their armed presence throughout Darfur is a symptom of impunity and danger. Whether for reasons of personal defense, fear or for military motives, Darfur's Arab tribes are heavily armed, while, at the same time, small arms are easily accessible, even to other civilians, in town markets.65

Box 8: El Fasher-Iridimi by road. Rajal, 22, witnessing his journey in August 2011
“I went from El Fasher to Kutum by car with a businessman. He was an Arab – with a Zaghawa grandfather. Kutum is full of Janjaweed. A very dangerous place for a Zaghawa. When you try to get food they try to listen to your accent and then arrest you. If you speak Zaghawa they’ll kill you. Zaghawa language, culture and moves are recognizable so it is quite easy to be caught, and you cannot trust anyone (…). I got arrested in Kutum but then they released me because I had a refugee card.
These people rape Zaghawa and Fur women; this happened to some of our aunts in the past. But also when we were there we saw before our eyes a Fur woman being raped by four men, one after the other… And we could not do anything, or else they would shoot us dead.
Then we moved to Dor which was full of soldiers with weapons. Soldiers would insult you and ask you: “where are you from?” And they’d kick you. If you have money they take your money. If you do not have money they give you some clothes to wash and make fun of you. We, the Zaghawas and Furs had to wash their clothes in front of them.
From Dor we went to Orshi, at night, and ran into the SLA/M (Zaghawas and Fur rebels). If you are a student they let you go, but if you do not have any job they will recruit you. My friend, Osman, was jobless at the time, with no student card and they took him (…) We left Orshi at the sunrise.
In Amboro we found UNAMID at 10 am. The Sudanese government was there too but did not do anything bad to us. We got some food. Amboro is safe. Then we moved close to Kornoi, and went to Tine Sudan where the government of Sudan and UNAMID have police posts (they asked us questions – “What are we doing? Why are we travelling?” – And eventually they let us go. But again, if you are unemployed you run into trouble (they will think you are a rebel).
We stayed for 3 days in Tine Chad and had our bags withheld by our driver, as we did not have money to pay him. Then we met a refugee from Iridimi with a car. He lent us money to pay the driver.
From there we arrived to Iridimi. The journey lasted 12 days. We got to the camp on August 25 (…)”

Map 2: Presence of Darfur Resistance – as of May 2010

Map 2: Presence of Darfur Resistance – as of May 2010

(b) Presence of new settlers and land occupation

  • 66 Survey N. 45.
  • 67 The presence of populations from Niger, Chad and other North African countries is reported in sever (...)
  • 68 Reportedly, such measures followed the arrest warrant issued by the ICC for the Sudanese Defense Mi (...)
  • 69 Both public statements were released shortly after US and ICC accusations of crimes of genocide aga (...)
  • 70 Interview with Abdelbagi Jibril, Director of the Darfur Relief Documentation Center, Geneva, July 1 (...)

27Rejection, hatred and fear of the “Arab tribes” of Darfur are not only the result of mass atrocities, including killing, rape and pillaging, but also of the transformation that forced eviction has brought to the land of the refugees and the internally displaced. Petersen and Tullin (2006) estimated that by September 2005 up to 58% of the Darfur villages had been burnt during the attacks, with an estimate of around 46% of the non-urban population driven off their lands (20-23). The current state of many of those former villages, almost a decade after the events, is still unknown. Some villages have been completely wiped off the map of Darfur leaving behind empty spaces, where – as refugees sarcastically report – “there is no one, except birds and wild animals”.66 For others, especially in South and West Darfur, refugees report the presence of new Arab settlers occupying their dar, erecting new buildings and completely transforming their former living spaces.67 These claims are supported by reports by IOs and observers. In 2010, the UNHCR and the Commission on Refugees in Sudan reported the arrival of a large group of Chadian nomads from across the border, intending to settle permanently in the areas where Massalit villages were located prior to 2003 (Mundt 2011, 9). The purpose and cause of such demographic change is equally puzzling: In April 2012, radio Dabanga reported on authorities in the West Saleh area of West Darfur – one of the places most severely ravaged by the conflict – hiring new settlers to burn and destroy all remaining evidence of mass graves in the area.68 Both some of the refugees interviewed69 and experts on Sudan, contend that new “Arab settlers” invading Darfurians’ historical lands marks the current iteration of the fundamentalist ideology pervasive in Sudan since 1989, aimed at making Sudan a Muslim and Arab-dominated country.70

28The presence of new settlers poses enormous challenges to the future voluntary return of refugees and IDPs, who mostly find themselves stripped of their lands and sometimes even of their land rights. Over time, settlers that were initially illegal squatters have been given the possibility to obtain land rights by registering in government municipalities (Institute for War and Peace Reporting 2010).71 This re-appropriation has been causing clashes with internally displaced persons who have attempted to return to work on their farm lands and who were reportedly “threatened with weapons while trying to sow their seeds” (Dabanga 2012).72 Elsewhere, refugees and IDPs were asked to pay the occupiers in cash or in kind in order to perform labor during the rainy season.73 Recognition of traditional land rights and mechanisms to address the issue of land ownership are an essential prerequisite for the refugees who are not ready to return unless they are guaranteed secure access to their land. Without first resolving the land issue, which is at the very root of this conflict, not only will repatriation be unlikely to occur, but the risk of further bloodshed also increases.

(c) Institutionalized ethnic discrimination?

29As mentioned above, the general perception of insecurity among the refugees is not only heightened by incidents on the ground, but is further exacerbated by the continuing discrimination between “Arabs” and “Africans” that persists in Sudan. Most of the refugees surveyed report experiences of “discrimination” and perceived “inequality” of rights and entitlements within Sudan. Those interviewed made references to the historic nature of the discrimination and the way ethnic differences have been institutionally manipulated to serve political and economic interests of the elites in power. Coexistence and inter-marriages between “non-Arab” farmers and “Arab” tribes existed until rapid population growth and desertification caused a split along ethnic lines. The division was mainly centered on access to land for farmers and herders. However, historically, under-development

  • 74 Interview with Abdelbagi Jibril, Director of the Darfur Relief and Documentation Center, Geneva, Ju (...)
  • 75 They report that the University of Khartoum accepts no official payment of tuition fees from non-Ar (...)
  • 76 According to Mr. Zidan, a graduate of Khartoum university, the five levels of tribal discrimination (...)

30and political marginalization in Darfur augmented the claims to power-sharing by Arab tribes, based on ethnic supremacy and political manipulation by the central government in its fight against opponents inside Darfur (See section 3, box 1).74 Not much has changed – according to the refugees – regarding how they feel excluded, segregated and unable to express their identities inside Sudan. Discrimination, they stress, is not occasional, but institutional. It trickles down from the educated elites in the capital and pervades places of public education and public speech. It has infiltrated several layers of society and become a political reality and a tool of power. Refugee students from Iridimi, Treguine, Bredjin and Djabal camps narrate how discrimination at Sudanese universities compelled many of them to abandon the studies they had been pursuing before the war and during the period of displacement.75 Mr. Zidan, JRS education supervisor in Djabal camp, further argues that discrimination in Khartoum is delivered through five categories of “ethnic purity and prestige” depending on geographical origin and level of Arab descent. The descendants of the elite in power are the most privileged tribe, while non-Arab people from Blue Nile, Darfur and South Kordofan, he argues, are placed on the lowest rung of the ladder76.

  • 77 Focus group with former students at Khartoum University, Iridimi camp, May 28, 2012.
  • 78 Focus group with students, Djabal camp, June 2012.

31Political dissent and complaints about the system, or any other expression of their rights inside academic institutions, or within the academic space, led to arbitrary detentions, torture and degrading treatment for many of the refugees interviewed.77 Discrimination is equally, if not more gravely, feared inside Darfur, where it gives leeway inter-tribal looting, money extortion, rape, public humiliation and revenge murders, with quasi-total impunity. In several areas of Darfur, refugees travelling for studies or family visits witness the absolute negation of their freedom of identity, to the extent that speaking, dressing or displaying aspects of their culture in any way could lead to death78 (see box 9).

Box 9
“Kutum [in West Darfur] is a very dangerous place for a Zaghawa. When you try to get food they try to listen to your accent and then arrest you. If you speak Zaghawa they kill you. Zaghawa language, culture and moves are recognizable (…) you cannot trust anyone.”
Interview with Mr. Rajal, describing the journey from El Fasher to Iridimi in August 2011, Iridimi camp, May 28, 2012.

  • 79 Several refugees made references to a public statement made by President Al Bashir in relation to t (...)

32Finally, refugees continue to fear public statements loaded with discriminatory intent against Darfur or other peripheral areas of Sudan. In most camps, the refugees visited spoke of their indignation over the label “insects” used in April 2012 by the President Bashir to publicly describe the people and the government of South Sudan, to whom Darfurians often associate79.

(d) A mistrusted peace settlement

33The refugees’ unwillingness to return home and the unresolved issues that are perceived as posing a threat to their return are better understood once the relationship between the current political settlement and the refugee communities is explored. As presented in section 4.2, the Doha Declaration for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) is the most recent negotiated attempt to resolve the Darfur conflict, politically and security-wise. Unlike previous negotiations within the Darfur Peace Agreement, characterized by rigid track I diplomacy, the Doha peace talks marked the first real attempt to bring all main parties to the conflict to the negotiating table. This included Darfur’s civil society and displaced populations. This approach, aimed at creating a more inclusive and people-focused peace agenda, failed to meet the most pressing requests of Darfur’s victims.

  • 80 Interview with Umda Daoud Khamis, refugee representative for the 12 refugee camps at the Doha peace (...)

34Umda Daoud, the refugee representative for the 12 refugee camps at Doha, explains that the refugees from the different camps had gathered in Abeche prior to the Doha talks to agree on eight common requests they would present to the parties at the negotiations. These included: (1) a comprehensive peace reconciling all the parties to the conflict; (2) justice and punishment for all criminals accused of mass atrocities, genocide and crimes against humanity; (3) complete disarmament of the Janjaweed militias; (4) reconstruction of Darfur's infrastructure and establishment of public services; (5) individual and collective compensation; (6) reparations for the killings; (7) land restitution and eviction of the new settlers and; (8) elections to determine the level of autonomy for Darfur.80 Without these requests being fulfilled, he adds, no agreement would have been recognized by the refugee community.

  • 81 Interview with Mr. Abdullaziz, Djabal camp, June 06, 2012.
  • 82 A compensation of $250 per family was established for every displaced household as a “return packag (...)
  • 83 The use of certain tactics and bureaucratic impediments to influence the behavior of the stakeholde (...)

35According to the refugees, however, the Doha talks failed to reconcile the rebels and used Tijani Sese, the leader of the un-influential JLM coalition, as a front to demonstrate the alleged success of the peace talks to the concerned international community.81 Concerning the question of criminal justice, Mr. Daoud reports that the Sudanese representatives present at the talks were reluctant to address this issue. At the same time, the language used on Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) in the final agreement was not conducive to creating a framework of mechanisms for binding the parties to ensure successful disarmament throughout Darfur. Furthermore, according to the refugee chief, the land question was not directly addressed, the compensation agreed for the returnees was unsatisfactory82 and the negotiation process was partially corrupted by the presence of ‘false’ IDP representatives.83 The hope that the involvement of civil society could bring together a plurality of views was eventually dashed by manipulation and poor preparation which, consequently, according to experts, allowed the National Congress Party to dominate the conference (DCRS), reinforced a general existing mistrust against the negotiations, and confirmed the un-readiness of the parties around finding a lasting political solution to the crisis (see box 10).

  • 84 Focus groups with teachers, Treguine, Djabal and Am Nabak camps, June 2012.
  • 85 Emphasis added.
  • 86 Focus groups with young adults and teachers, Treguine and Djabal camps, June 2012.

36Regardless of the provisions spelled out in the DDPD, many refugees advocate that no problem in Sudan can be sustainably resolved unless a change of regime occurs. Some place their hope in the international community, despite the disillusionment it has warranted due to the delayed and ineffective UNAMID deployment. At the same time, other refugees put their trust in the newly created coalition of Sudanese resistance movements.84 The Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF), also called “Kauda Alliance”, came together in November 2011 as the union of the non-signatories to the Doha agreement and the Sudan People Liberation Army (North) branch of the armed opposition of South Sudan. According to its founding charter, this alliance would seek to “represent all the marginalized people of Sudan” and “offer a national solution to the ongoing violence in South Kordofan, Blue Nile, Nuba Mountains and Darfur”85 (SRF 2011). Its objectives are markedly political: “achieve a democratically-elected government, and nationwide respect for human rights and peaceful relations between North and South Sudan.” Refugees affirm that Darfur and South Sudan “are closer now than ever” and aim to find not a partial, but a comprehensive solution to the Sudanese predicament.86

37It is worth noting that the views contained in the eight Doha requests, taken together with the desire for regime change, are expressed consistently throughout the sample surveys. In order for return to happen, over 83% of those surveyed demanded an enhancement in security conditions, specifying that this should be achieved through justice and accountability for war criminals (44%); disarmament (40%); land restitution and removal of new settlements (37%); complete peace (30%); individual and collective compensation (29%); and the re-establishment of basic citizenship rights (18%). In addition to security-related requests, over 54% mention the development and reconstruction of Darfur through the establishment of basic services such as health and education as essential for their safe and dignified return. Finally, 16% advocate for regime change as a condition sine qua non for voluntary return (see fig. 15).

Fig. 15: Frequently mentioned requests to be fulfilled for voluntary return

Fig. 15: Frequently mentioned requests to be fulfilled for voluntary return

Conclusion III

38This section highlights the fact that the perception of insecurity in Darfur plays a key role in the decision to return home. Refugees, already victims of violence, discrimination, and forced eviction, are not ready to return home unless the risk that these violations may re-occur is totally eliminated. In fact, they maintain that, in spite of the signature of a formal peace settlement at the Doha talks, the causes of their initial flight still persist inside Darfur: direct incidents of violence are recurrent; militias have not been disarmed; ethnic discrimination continues; and their former lands have been occupied. At the same time, the 2011 DDPD is an object of mistrust, critique and rejection because of the weak provisions it contains and the fact that it was signed by only one rebel coalition. The peace talks failed to address the root causes of the conflict, to incorporate the demands of civil society, or to create solid legal guarantees and follow-up mechanisms to oversee all parties’ implementation of the provisions. All these shortcomings exist within a broader climate of limited freedom of opinion and political manipulation.

39Based on these flaws, the refugees do not endorse this peace, nor do they believe that it can end conflict in the region, or ease the humanitarian situation on the ground. Consequently, they are not ready to return unless the peace process lays solid foundations for: (1) an inclusive and nationwide peace; (2) total ceasefire and disarmament; (3) prosecution of criminals and restoration of individual rights; and (4) reconstruction of areas destroyed. These requests reflect some of the main pillars on which the practice of peacebuilding is built and enhance understanding of where repatriation sits in the process. Refugees will feel safe once all the parties commit to resolving the conflict by means of negotiation; incidents of direct violence are drastically reduced by pre-emptive measures such as disarmament; relationships are transformed through reparations, criminal prosecution and restorative justice; and finally, once infrastructure is provided inside Darfur, through development and reconstruction (See fig.16).

Fig. 16: Components prioritized by surveyed refugees for voluntary return and their links with peace building

Fig. 16: Components prioritized by surveyed refugees for voluntary return and their links with peace building

The axial peacebuilding components are adapted from Schirch (2006: 75).

40By requiring these mechanisms to be put in place prior to repatriation, Darfur’s refugees are, demonstrably, an important example of the concrete link between repatriation and peace settlements (section 2.1). Refugees are not willing to return unless tangible signs of peace exist on the ground, which they are in a position to assess in person owing to their border position and the experiences of their internally displaced relatives.

41Peace talks and negotiated peace settlements are opportunities to cement the road map through which such progress can be achieved, but do not describe the stage of peace unless they become inclusive and sufficiently trusted as marking substantial change in physical security on the ground. Because of the atrocities experienced, and the mistrust of the Khartoum regime, refugees are not willing to accept any risks associated with repatriation – one of several steps in the process of peace-making. Rather, they expect repatriation to be a final step towards normalization in Darfur, once peace on the ground has been consolidated.

5.4 Perception of threat in eastern Chad

(a) Political pressure

42Unfortunately, those who signed the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur seem not to share the same philosophy as the refugees in terms of voluntary return. In April 2012, the LJM leader, Tigani Sese, signatory of the Doha document, declared: “meticulously planned return is a prerequisite for the successful implementation of the DDPD”. This affirmation accurately captures the importance that the DDPD signatories assign to return as a step towards peace. In fact, only a few days after the Declaration was signed by the two parties, the government of Sudan initiated tripartite talks with the UNHCR and the Chadian government to resolve the refugee situation in eastern Chad.87 The talks followed inaccurate announcements of massive returns to Darfur. In February 2012, UNAMID reported the return of 100,000 IDPs and refugees to their villages in West Darfur,88 information that the UNHCR in Chad has dismissed.89 The UNHCR stresses that up to June 2012 no official case of voluntary return had been registered inside the refugee camps, but admits the possibility of spontaneous returns of border populations living in refugee-like situations. The estimated figure for these types of return stood at 31,000 in May 2012.90

  • 91 Interview with Mahamat Nur Abdulaye, CNARR representative, Ndjamena, June 2012.
  • 92 Interview with UNHCR focal point, Goz Beida, June 2012.

43In the meantime, the Chadian and Sudanese governments have been working to bring the process forward seeking the support of the UNHCR. In their joint press release, they outlined the procedures for “voluntary return” in response to “an enhancement of security and decrease in acts of violence inside Darfur”. They sketched out a time line and action plan for the signature of a tripartite agreement and the creation of a ministerial commission which would take charge of the process.91 Specific deadlines have been set for meetings with camp leaders, information sharing on spontaneous returns, and “go and see visits” which, it is proposed, the refugees would undertake in North, South and West Darfur over the next year (CNARR 2011).92

44In the midst of these procedures, tensions are mounting in the Chadian camps. Refugees are increasingly concerned with the recent political rapprochement between the two governments, which has been sealed by the marriage of Idriss Deby with Amani Musa Hilal, daughter of a famed Janjaweed leader93; they perceive this entente as one hindering the impartiality of humanitarian agencies working in Chad. A significant number of refugees lament the interruption of the UNHCR resettlement program – part of the agreement negotiated between Chad and Sudan in 2010. The two states are alleged to have ended a long and mutual proxy war by negotiating, on the Chadian side, the expulsion of foreign troops on the borders, the extradition of Darfur rebels, and the ending of emigration opportunities for Darfur refugees. In return, Sudan would have stopped harboring groups opposing the Chadian government, and asked to hand over to Ndjamena Chadians prisoners held in Khartoum.94 The UNHCR does not dismiss these claims on resettlements and, instead, admits to the impossibility of counteracting this political decision on the basis of respect for national sovereignty.95

(b) Camp restrictions and insecurity

  • 96 Refugees add that the UNHCR intervened in 2012 to block one such operation, so that the militias we (...)
  • 97 Interview with DIS officer, Bredjin camp, June 12, 2012.

45Pressure on refugees comes from various sources, particularly in the realm of physical security in and outside the camps. In several focus groups, young students and teachers reported concerns over the presence of the joint Chado-Sudanese military forces which took over the functions of the UN peacekeeping mission MINURCAT in 2010. As mentioned earlier, Idriss Déby was actually the one demanding that MINURCAT's mandate not be renewed, following political negotiations between Sudan and Chad. This move sparked controversy among humanitarian workers afraid that the government would not have the capacity to provide civilian protection, and among the refugee communities, which interpreted this manoeuvre as an infiltration of the Sudanese government into their safe haven. While humanitarian fears have been alleviated by an actual enhancement of security on the ground (UNHCR 2012), the perception of threat has increased among the refugees. They report incursions of the force mixte (joint force) in Bredjin, Goz Amer and Gaga refugee camps with the intention of arresting individual refugees and transporting them to El Geneina, Darfur.96 This information was reported in two different sites, although this was denied by the Chadian police in the camps.97

  • 98 One such case occurred on the occasion of the tripartite meeting held on July 4, 2012 in Abeche, Ch (...)

46Other complaints included violations of freedom of expression, personal intimidation and decisions being made by camp authorities without the approval of the refugee community. Two groups of refugees from different camps testified to not being properly consulted in the selection process for representatives at the Doha talks and the tripartite meeting on voluntary return.98

47Finally, refugees from Bredjin reported border populations being urged to return to Sudan. This fact is not surprising given that cases of forced relocation have already been reported in Sudan by IDP communities. In October 2007, John Holmes, UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, expressed his concern over forced relocation in South Darfur where IDPs were forced to leave Kalma and Otash camps near Nyala (Sudan Tribune 2007; Amnesty International 2008).99 The populations were either required to move to other camps in government controlled areas, or to return to their former villages, placing them under even greater insecurity.100 The government of Sudan is deemed to have an interest in dismantling the camp, as expressed in an article by Mohammed Abdalla, Director of the Government Commission for Refugees. He stated that, “the Darfur crisis lies in refugee camps” which draws the attention of Western media and “are capitalized on by rebel movements” (Sudan Vision 2011).101

48Although forced relocations have not, as yet, been experienced by refugees inside the Chadian camps, authorities on the border have been reportedly pressuring Darfurians living in refugee-like circumstances (outside of official camps) to repatriate.102 These concerns were primarily reported following fieldwork in Djabal and Bredjin camps, but can be considered to be true for other camps as well.103 Finally, refugees also noticed a decline in international presence, both at the level of humanitarian workers employed in the IOs, and in the presence of journalists, who they maintain “have not visited our camps since Chad and Sudan have become political allies”. As the media also reports, political changes in Chad have brought about the closure of two offices of the ICC in Djamena and Abeche that previously used to engage with Darfur refugees (Institute for War and Peace Reporting 2011). 104

(c) Economic pressures

  • 105 The UNHCR declined to provide any trends on budget allocations specific to the Darfur crisis. Howev (...)
  • 106 Interview with Mahamat Nour Abdulaye, CNARR representative, Ndjamena, July 18 2012.

49Last, but not least, refugees are pressured to return by the decreasing humanitarian aid and assistance generally provided in the East. The budget drop is affecting different areas of humanitarian assistance such as education, water and sanitation, food aid and other basic services due to apparent international donor “fatigue” over this crisis.105 As asserted by a CNARR country representative, the current objectives of the UNHCR and CNARR are “to create a transition for the refugees from pure humanitarian assistance to development and self-reliance”106 - an ambitious objective in the quite inhospitable landscape of eastern Chad (see box 11).

Box 11
“…UN agencies do not have the same funding as before. Food ratios are being cut, Refugees that were paid to watch over water points are now unpaid. Compensations for sick refugees have been halved, and so on. The effort is to make the refugees self-reliant (…)”
Interview with Abdel Madjid, CNARR camp manager, Bredjin camp, June 13, 2012.

  • 107 CNARR officer in Bredjin camp confirmed that for the month of July the refugee rations have been re (...)
  • 108 DIS officer, Bredjin camp, June 13, 2012.
  • 109 Ministerial Representative Mr. Alhabo Mohammed, Farchana, June 18, 2012. The government representat (...)

50While this difficult transition is being made, tensions mount in the camp, not only over reduced rations, but over delays in food delivery which are causing the rations to be cut even further. Food aid – previously delivered by the WFP though Libya – has recently been supplied through Sudan where transport is less secure and often hampered by road blockades.107 Tensions are also mounting within local communities, which, although welcoming the refugees in the beginning, are witnessing degradation of the already poor natural resources in the east as a consequence of deforestation, water drainage and land erosion. Refugees, especially women, report harassment during the collection of firewood and whilst farming. These are activities that refugees are not allowed to undertake beyond a five-kilometer radius of the camps108, but, for practical reasons, they often exceed. These incidents partially explain why some local authorities are particularly adamant about continuing repatriation talks, whereas the word “integration” is rarely even mentioned.109

Conclusions IV

51Despite their international legal status of displaced persons, “cross-border” refugees in eastern Chad are feeling increasingly pressured and trapped in the border area - a location that they perceive as increasingly insecure. The pressures are, first of all, political. The Doha peace talks’ major aim is to dismantle IDP and refugee camps and bring an end to the Darfur crisis, which continues to show to the world the agonies inflicted on them as a result of the conflict. The recent political entente between Deby and Al Bashir has resulted in early talks on voluntary return, the blockage of several resettlement programs, and a decreased international presence in East Chad, marked, among other things, by the withdrawal of UN troops and the deployment of a Chado-Sudanese military contingent. Aware of the forced relocations carried out inside Darfur, refugees in Chad stick to the Chadian side of the border, despite experiencing restrictions on their freedom, infiltration of the military into the camps, and underhand moves marring the political gathering intended to determine their future. The pressure is also economic: the budgets allocated to eastern Chad have decreased markedly, with food aid and basic camp services being cut. In the context of any decision to return home, the camps presently remain the safest solution refugees have, but by no means represent one that is perceived as being without threats.

5.4 Methodological and analytical limitations

52This research presents important methodological limitations in terms of data collection and analysis. It should be remembered that the sample predominantly represents camp elites who influence community decisions and excludes some sections of society such as second-generation refugees. A more representative analysis could be conducted by targeting marginalized households, children and more illiterate women to understand their short, and long-term, priorities more in depth. In addition, qualitative data analysis could have been more gender/age disaggregated. This exercise could be useful and interesting, especially if the sample size were larger and more representative of gender/age proportions in the camps. Furthermore, this investigation may also have suffered from the language barrier where nuances were potentially lost in the process of translating from Arabic to French or English and vice versa. A fluent Arabic speaker would, likely, have gained greater insights, obtained more details, and possibly built greater trust within the refugee community. As discussed in section 3.3, by choosing to examine specific components, in this case socio-economic and security related factors, the scope of the enquiry is automatically restricted and risks excluding key aspects from the analysis. Psycho-social components, such as trauma or stigmatization, and physical impairments are not sufficiently researched in terms of how they influence the desire to repatriate. Finally, no objective conclusions on the situation in Darfur can be reached unless the views narrated by the refugees are triangulated by fieldwork inside Sudan. Since the PRSs in Chad are only a small proportion of Darfur’s displaced, fieldwork inside Darfur could have offered a better understanding of the challenges faced by IDPs and of the extant security conditions. Unfortunately, limitations in terms of access, contacts and time did not allow for a visit to Darfur.

Photo 5: Iridmi camp, Chad (2012)

Notes

30 “Official case” means that the return has been declared to the humanitarian and government authorities in the camp and the refugee card has been officially returned (Interview with CNARR camp manager, Djabal, June 9, 2012).

31 Land tenure rights were mainly distributed to sedentary populations, with the exclusion of some nomadic Arab tribes, particularly in North and West Darfur (Tubiana 2005, 73–74).

32 The statutory system was set up mainly through the 1970 Land Registration Act, which states that all unregistered land parcels must be regarded as state-owned. Clearly tribal dars, which were not registered, fell into this category (Azzain Mohamed 2005, 211).

33 Survey N. 101.

34 Survey N. 2.

35 Focus groups carried out in Touloum and Djabal camps, June 2012.

36 Several of the women interviewed were heads of the household following the deaths of their husbands and/or brothers during the conflict. Indeed, during the attacks women were usually spared from the killings (although often subject to rape and ill-treatment), whereas men, young boys and even male babies would be killed (see box 3); this explains the unusually high proportion of females in the 12 camps (Focus group with Massalit and Fur women in Djabal camp, June 2012).

37 Surveys N. 6, 11, 54, 67, 81, 93, 99, 101, 104, 125, 128, 136, 144, 145, 152, 160, 161, 169, 172, 178, 184, 190, 191.

38 Surveys N. 9, 13, 26, 17, 28, 29, 31, 41, 43, 45, 56, 69, 63, 64, 65, 68, 70, 71, 73, 92, 108, 115, 131, 132, 146, 148, 153.

39 “Feeling home” was translated in Arabic as “feeling of belonging” (see annex III).

40 In 2007 the UNHCR announced the infiltration of Darfur armed groups in Treguine, Bredjin, Oure Cassoni, and Goz Amer, with other camps being used as rest and recuperation sites and rear bases for the recruitment of combatants, including child soldiers (Small Arms Survey 2008; Human Rights Watch 2007).

41 Mr. Bedoum, IRC Wash Manager, witnessed a major weapon collection operation was carried out in 2009 by the Chadian government in Oure Cassoni camp. He adds that thousands of heavy weapons, as well as ammunition, were found in the camp to the great astonishment of the humanitarian community that had been working in a far more dangerous place than they had imagined (Interview, Ndjamena, May 17, 2012).

42 Oure Cassoni is one of the camps which have been relocated (UNHCR global Appeal 2005, East Chad and Darfur, available at http://www.unhcr.org/41ab28c20.pdf, retrieved July 3, 2012).

43 Interview with Moustapha Moussani, CNARR manager in Am Nabak camp, June 2012.

44 Interview with Abdel Madjid, CNARR manager of Bredjin camp, Bredjin, June 13, 2012.

45 Close family members is understood to mean: parents, children and siblings.

46 Refugees mention the practice of goodwill and charity towards widows, the elderly, handicapped, and orphans.

47 Interview with Umda Daoud Khemis, Djabal, June 8, 2012.

48 For example in Oure Cassoni camp vehicles leave daily from the camp to Tine Chad, and then to Abeche, with intermediary stops at other camps. (Interview with Justin Bedoum, WASH Manager for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Oure Cassoni, Ndjamena, May 17, 2012).

49 Convoys of multiple trucks stop in the camp on a weekly basis to deliver merchandise from Nyala, Darfur and return daily. After the 2009 Libya turmoil, the Libyan business corridor has been closed. (Interview with Justin Bedoum, WASH Manager for IRC in Oure Cassoni, Ndjamena, May 17, 2012).

50 Interview with Jules Demba Kodindo, Program Manager for CARE International, Iriba, May 27, 2012. In order to avoid disputes and misunderstandings over land allocations, refugees and local authorities gather on a weekly basis in a joint committee. The committee includes the Imam (religious leaders), and village and district chiefs. Despite the efforts to ensure peaceful coexistence over land and other natural resources, incidents of violence and rape are reported (Interview with Mahamat Ali Mahamt, Ministerial Representative in Hadjer Hadid, June 14, 2012).

51 From January to May 2012 the ICRC sent 510 messages from the camps to Darfur and received 437 from Darfur to the camps. These messages include family verifications and important family news (births, deaths, etc.) (Interview with Christian Wabnitz, Adjoint Chief of Delegation, ICRC, Ndjamena, May 21, 2012).

52 Available through http://www.radiodabanga.org/node/32292 , accessed July 15, 2012.

53 Interview with Tching-chackbe B. Lucie, Education Manager with CARE International in Chad, Iriba, June 2012.

54 Interview with Mahamat Nour Abdulaye, CNARR, Sécrétaire Permanent, Ndjamena, June 2012.

55 Merchants travelling from Iridimi to Sharif Umra (Sudan) narrate: “Sometimes we travel from Iridimi camp to El Fasher to buy and sell products. The trip is safe when we stop in SLA and JEM areas, such as El Elya, Tugani, Meski and Orshi. But as soon as you get farther in to towns such Anabegi, Dor, Kutum and Kofot, you have to give a lot of merchandise to the “Janjaweed”, or else you do not get alive to El Fasher”.These merchants also confirm the Janjaweed presence in areas closer to the borders, such the town of Goz Gidera which is on the way from Iridimi to Umra (Focus group with merchants, Iridimi camp, June 2012).

56 In the first half of 2012, the localities of Dilling, South Kordofan, Aurakoja, Kormon, Malam Menawashi, Abu Hamra, Girdeed and Dabba-Nayra in Jabal Marra, West and South Darfur have been bombed in April, June and July for consecutive days, causing new waves of displacement in Darfur (Radio Dabanga, 2012. Available through: http://www.radiodabanga.org/node/32527, http://www.radiodabanga.org/node/29720, http://www.radiodabanga.org/node/32110)

57 In 2012 the Zaghawa Sudan Liberation Army – Abdul Wahid splinter faction (SLA-AW) – had its stronghold in Est Jebel Marra in western Darfur and Jebel Meidob in northern Darfur. The Fur splinter group, SLA- Minni Minawi (SLA-MM), was originally located in Jebel Marra and has had a sporadic presence south of El Fasher in northern Darfur, while the Zaghawa Justice and Liberation Movement (JEM) has been allegedly operating in Blue Nile and South Kordofan, on the borders with South Sudan (see map 2) (Small Arms Survey 2010 a, b).

58 Such as radio Dabanga, Afia and Sudan service (Focus groups with teachers, Treguine camp, June 2012).

59 Both public statements were released shortly after US and ICC accusations of crimes of genocide against the non-Arab population, seemingly a political move to assuage international concerns. (Available though: http://reliefweb.int/node/216184 ,and http://www.sudantribune.com/Sudan-pledges-ceasefire-in-Darfur,29245 , accessed July 9, 2012).

60 According to the author, Arab militias and paramilitaries took a stand against the government by signing local pacts of non-aggressions with the JEM and the SLA.

61 Available through http://www.radiodabanga.org/node/32803 , accessed July 9, 2012.

62 Available through http://www.radiodabanga.org/node/1093 , accessed July 9, 2012.

63 Available through http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/facts-figures-armed-groups-darfur-arab.php , accessed July 9, 2012.

64 Interview with Abdelbagi Jibril, Director of the Darfur Relief and Documentation Center, Geneva, July 11, 2012.

65 Such as in Geneina, right across the Sudanes borders (Interview with Abdel Madjid, CNARR camp manager, Bredjin camp, June 2012).

66 Survey N. 45.

67 The presence of populations from Niger, Chad and other North African countries is reported in several surveys of students who travel regularly through Darfur and merchants interacting with these communities for business purposes (Interview with Mubarak, refugee student travelling by vehicle from Abdel Kher to Iridimi; focus group with merchants in Iridimi market, June 2012).

68 Reportedly, such measures followed the arrest warrant issued by the ICC for the Sudanese Defense Minister Abdel Brahim Mohammed Hussein and Janjaweed leader Ali Kushayb for crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of genocide. Radio Dabaga, April 2012. Available through http://www.radiodabanga.org/node/28085, accessed July 9, 2012.

69 Both public statements were released shortly after US and ICC accusations of crimes of genocide against the non-Arab population, seemingly a political move to assuage international concerns. (Available though: http://reliefweb.int/node/216184, and http://www.sudantribune.com/Sudan-pledges-ceasefire-in-Darfur,29245 , accessed July 9 2012)

70 Interview with Abdelbagi Jibril, Director of the Darfur Relief Documentation Center, Geneva, July 11, 2012.

71 Available through http://iwpr.net/report-news/land-rights-confusion-hinders-darfur-idp-returns , accessed July 13, 2012.

72 Available through http://www.radiodabanga.org/node/31943 , accessed July 13, 2012.

73 Interview with Umda Daoud Khamis, Djabal camp, June 6, 2012.

74 Interview with Abdelbagi Jibril, Director of the Darfur Relief and Documentation Center, Geneva, July 11, 2012.

75 They report that the University of Khartoum accepts no official payment of tuition fees from non-Arab tribes, fails students on exams on an ethnic basis, and imposes membership of the National Congress Party in order for students to succeed in their course of studies. (Focus groups with teachers, Treguine, Bredjin and Djabal camps, June 2012).

76 According to Mr. Zidan, a graduate of Khartoum university, the five levels of tribal discrimination are the following: (1) Shaggiya and Jalliya – descendants of the elite in power (2) Danagla, Beni Taaisha, Malaaiya – Arabs originally from northern Sudan, (3) Reizegat, Misseriya – Arab herders, (4) Beni Amr, populations originally from eastern Sudan, and (5) Massalit, Fur, Zaghawa, and others indigenous population from Darfur and Kordofan. (Interview with Mohammad Ali Zidan, Education Supervisor for the Jesuit Refugee Service, Djabal camp).

77 Focus group with former students at Khartoum University, Iridimi camp, May 28, 2012.

78 Focus group with students, Djabal camp, June 2012.

79 Several refugees made references to a public statement made by President Al Bashir in relation to the government of South Sudan and the SPLA in which he described “a movement of insects” being chased from the oil-rich border region of Heiglig. (Source: http://www.aljazeera.com/video/africa/2012/04/201241981512676164.html). Although not explicitly addressing Darfur people, this statement is interpreted by the refugees in Chad as an insult against all non-Arab people in Sudan.

80 Interview with Umda Daoud Khamis, refugee representative for the 12 refugee camps at the Doha peace talks. Djabal camp, June 7, 2012.

81 Interview with Mr. Abdullaziz, Djabal camp, June 06, 2012.

82 A compensation of $250 per family was established for every displaced household as a “return package”. This sum was unanimously rejected by IDPs and refugees as expressed also by Umda Atim camp coordinator in northern Darfur and Umda Daoud representative for the refugee camps in Chad (Dabanga, 2012.Available through http://www.radiodabanga.org/node/13978 , accessed July 10, 2012).

83 The use of certain tactics and bureaucratic impediments to influence the behavior of the stakeholders has been confirmed by other sources. In its Doha analysis report, the DRDC (2011) confirms that the government allegedly intimidated independent delegates and had delayed authorization for UNAMID flights carrying IDP delegates and representatives from West Darfur to land. Allegedly, these planes were only allowed to land after UNAMID and the AU Joint Mediation Team accepted that certain IDP leaders should be allowed onboard (DRDC 2011, 24).

84 Focus groups with teachers, Treguine, Djabal and Am Nabak camps, June 2012.

85 Emphasis added.

86 Focus groups with young adults and teachers, Treguine and Djabal camps, June 2012.

87 The first tripartite meeting took place in Khartoum on July 26, 2011. UNHCR. Internal press release. Chad, July 2011.

88 Available through: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/27/world/africa/darfur-refugees-returning-home.html?pagewanted=all, accessed July 11, 2012.

89 Interview with Honorine Sommet Lange, Adjoint Representative for UNHCR Chad, Ndjamena, June 2012.

90 Personal communication with UNHCR Protection Officer in El Fasher, May 9, 2012.

91 Interview with Mahamat Nur Abdulaye, CNARR representative, Ndjamena, June 2012.

92 Interview with UNHCR focal point, Goz Beida, June 2012.

93 Available at http://www.sudantribune.com/Sudan-s-capital-gripped-in,41358, accessed July 3, 2012. Focus group with teachers, Djabal camp, June 8, 2012.

94 Interview with Mr. Abdullaziz, Djabal camp, June 8, 2012.

95 During an interview in June 2012, UNHCR focal points in Goz Beida affirmed: “The resettlement program has been put on hold – except for serious medical cases – due to an expression of the Sudanese government. We [the UNHCR] cannot oppose the Chado-Sudanese agreement. Chad would obstruct their departure anyway. This is the first time in my career at UNHCR that I have seen one such case”. Mr. Jibril Abdelbagi, a human rights advocate in Geneva, affirms that Chad is not a unique case. The government of Sudan is alleged to have negotiated no-emigration policies for Sudanese nationals with multiple Arab countries, where, he adds, “the UNHCR has given in to the pressure”. According to Mr. Jibril, the Government of Sudan is alleged to have agreed to block the emigration of Sudanese nationals with Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan. (Interview with Abdelbagi Jibril, Darfur Relief Documentation Center – Director, Geneva, July 11, 2012).

96 Refugees add that the UNHCR intervened in 2012 to block one such operation, so that the militias were unable to arrest individuals holding a valid refugee card inside the camp. Focus group with teachers, Djabal and Bredjin camps, June 2012.

97 Interview with DIS officer, Bredjin camp, June 12, 2012.

98 One such case occurred on the occasion of the tripartite meeting held on July 4, 2012 in Abeche, Chad. Refugees from Djabal lamented that the selection of 3 out of 5 refugees sent to the tripartite meeting in Abeche was made by CNARR without the approval of the refugee community. They further explain that the three people selected, although holding a refugee card, were not camp inhabitants, but came from the neighboring villages of Verkaje, Adday and Liouna (personal communication with Djabal camp, July 5, 2012).

99 Accessible through http://www.sudantribune.com/UN-shows-concern-over-forced,24507 , accessed July 12, 2012.

100 This happened in breach of international principles on internal displacement, which Khartoum had agreed to respect in a pact signed with the UNHCR and IOM (Amnesty 2008, 21).

101 He added: “The Darfur camps have turned into a source of proliferating immoral crimes, which must disappear (…)”. Available through: http://www.sudanvisiondaily.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=50835 , accessed July 13, 2012.

102 Interview with Ministerial Representative (Sous-Préfet) in Farchana, June 13, 2012.

103 “In October 2011 in Shak Khala, locality of Adré, border military threatened to arrest a refugee who was advising Darfurians on the borders to apply for a refugee card in Chad, instead of returning home. Sudanese officials were trying to convince them that security in Darfur has improved and they should return (…)” (Focus group with young adults in Treguine camp).

104 Available through http://iwpr.net/report-news/has-icc-lost-touch-darfur-refugees accessed July 12, 2012.

105 The UNHCR declined to provide any trends on budget allocations specific to the Darfur crisis. However, sharp decreases in funding were reported by INGOs and CNARR. CARE International confirms that budgets allocated for Am Nabak, Touloum and Iridimi camps have decreased by more than 50% since 2009 (interview with F. Hammond, Country Director for CARE International in Chad, June 18, 2012).

106 Interview with Mahamat Nour Abdulaye, CNARR representative, Ndjamena, July 18 2012.

107 CNARR officer in Bredjin camp confirmed that for the month of July the refugee rations have been reduced significantly because of delivery delays by WFP, which is having to ship through Sudan, and because of the decreasing funds that the organization delivers to refugees. Conversely, some food aid has been provided this year to local populations due to the poor rainy season in 2011 (interview, Bredjin, June 2012). As confirmed by the WFP in Mach 2011, the unrest in Libya had indeed cut off a 3000 km supply corridor used since 2004 to bring about 40% of the food to Eastern Chad (Source: WFP 2011 – available though http://www.wfp.org/content/libya-chad-libya-unrest-cuts-critical-aid-route , accessed July 12, 2012).

108 DIS officer, Bredjin camp, June 13, 2012.

109 Ministerial Representative Mr. Alhabo Mohammed, Farchana, June 18, 2012. The government representative also complains that, “they are spoiled here with us (…) but their presence is very deleterious to our land. They are destroying our environment, exploiting our soil and water to the detriment of the local people. They have to go home.”

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