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The Darfur Refugees’ Plight

Anna Praz

6. Conclusion

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1This ePaper was aimed at understanding the reasons behind the limited voluntary return of Darfur's refugees living in eastern Chad in spite of the formal Darfur peace agreed in Doha in July 2011. The empirical investigation was guided by the assumption that decisions to return are made by the refugees on the basis of: (1) perceived physical security and; (2) strength of socio-economic ties both in the homeland and in the host country.

2The in-depth analysis of this case study revealed both factors played a part in explaining non-return. However, insecurity in Darfur appears to be the dominant concern for the refugees, insofar as it also affects how economic and social relationships evolve over time. Perception of threat included not only bombings, destruction of villages and violations of the ceasefire, but also discrimination and abuses against men, women and children based on their ethnic origins and cultural identities. The persistence of these divisions has cut all links between refugees and the Arab population in Darfur and has significantly restricted refugees’ relationships with their families scattered in other parts of Darfur or Chad. Although cross-borders movements exist and are used for trade, they are considered by the majority to be too dangerous an option for generating income. This explains the strengthened cooperation and economic integration with Chadian communities, particularly for trade and farming activities

3The field investigation also reveals that the way refugees understand “security” and “peace” goes far beyond a decrease in deaths directly caused by the conflict inside Darfur. Refugees will not feel safe in Sudan until military attacks and activities cease in other areas of the country such as the Blue Nile and South Kordofan. Peace, they claim, has to be “total”, nationwide, and inclusive of all factions fighting the regime. Darfur and South Sudan, for a long time considered as two separate issues, appear to fight now more than ever for the same cause: a new Sudan-wide peace; constitutional reform; free and fair elections; and the end of economic and political marginalization. This is one of the main reasons for dissatisfaction with the Doha Declaration, which refugees consider a poorly articulated agreement marred by manipulation and disregard for the people of Darfur. The agreement not only remains weak on the issues of land restitution and compensation – essential if displacement is to end – but also fails to provide justice to war victims by ignoring or downplaying the issues of criminal liabilities and security sector reform. In their failure to resolve the root causes of internal and international displacement, the Doha signatories appear to be hoping to use this settlement to trigger repatriation without addressing the factors that make such a move impossible from the point of view of the refugees. This situation spurs the concerns of refugees in East Chad over their future, as they feel the political pressures mounting following the Chado-Sudanese rapprochement, as well as the fatigue of the humanitarian community whose funding and assistance are decreasing.

6.1 Policy implications

4In this context, humanitarian workers operating in Chad and Darfur should take measures to protect the refugees and internally displaced persons from any political pressure to repatriate them. Despite the operational difficulties, the UNHCR must remain a fully informed, neutral and impartial protector of the rights of the refugees - including their right to voluntary return. The voluntary nature of return should manifest “in the individual ability to decide that the conditions that made him leave no longer exist”, or, at least, not to the extent that he/she needs protection elsewhere (UNHCR 2002; Le Rutte 2011, 35) This assessment should be made, first of all, by the refugees who best understand the situation on the ground, in their homeland. Consultations with refugee leaders should take place free from manipulation and the arbitrary selection of interlocutors in the camps (section 5.3). The UNHCR should also weigh the information received from partners and the Government of Sudan against what is received via independent information channels or comprehensive field assessments in Darfur. As long as extensive areas remain inaccessible to humanitarian actors, talks about repatriation do not make practical sense. Voluntary return shall occur in safety and dignity - including physical, legal and material guarantees - which do not appear to be currently in place, nor have been sufficiently fleshed out by the Doha Declaration. Lastly, durable solutions in eastern Chad should consider demographic change, change of livelihood strategies and urbanization trends inside Darfur. Although Khartoum strives to promote return from within Sudan, the status quo ante might not be desired by many IDPs whose camps “are urban settlements in all but name” (De Waal 2009). Are the camps in Chad following the same pattern? The refugees interviewed do not desire this to be the case, but there are indications that this is likely trend.

5Given the impossibility of separating repatriation from the broader political process, the international community has to be aware of what the current peace settlement can do to bring peace to Darfur. From the perspective of Darfur refugees and some opposition movements, sustainable peace cannot be achieved without a comprehensive solution to the plight of all Sudanese people. The formation of a united rebel front opposing the Doha agreement appears to make the moment ripe for an expanded peace-making agenda, possibly addressing the fundamental root causes of conflict in Sudan. The long-standing marginalization and disenfranchisement of citizens in the peripheral areas of the country mandate a need for broad constitutional reform, accommodation of political interests and wealth sharing. As long as Darfur is tackled in isolation from turmoil in other parts of Sudan, the average perception of threat is unlikely to diminish, and the situation consequently unlikely to normalize.

  • 110 Sudan’s criminal law is a mix of British, Egyptian and Islamic law as well as sha’aria and local cu (...)

6Last, but not least, impunity cannot continue unabated. The avoidance of discussing and acting on this issue during peace talks will by no means promote reconciliation, especially in Darfur. Refugees, as well as IDPs presumably, are not ready to turn a blind eye to those who massacred their families and communities, and demand justice first and foremost. A first step towards addressing impunity is through national tribunals.110 Alternatively, international criminal justice would involve the ICC to which the situation in Darfur has been referred since 2005 (UNSC Res. 1593). However, the multiple arrest warrants for the perpetrators of mass atrocities make it unlikely for the incumbent government to delegate the task to the Court. The way forward will depend on states members of the Rome Statute and the degree of their cooperation with the ICC in holding perpetrators accountable whenever they may enter their territories. In the absence of a solution to impunity, pushing repatriation might be even more dangerous than the status quo; in their present inability to forgive and to forget, returnees risk taking the law into their own hands, thus fuelling further conflict locally.

6.2 Implications for further research

7The case of Darfur’s refugees in Chad testifies to an important link between repatriation and peace. The limited voluntary repatriation to Sudan stems from the fact that changes of a fundamental nature, as well as stabilization, have still not been achieved inside the country. The case study shows a deep-rooted disconnect between the language of peace used by the refugees and that used in the peace process. The Sudanese government is pushing for a hard 2 position on the peace/repatriation relationship (see section 2) - namely that refugee repatriation alone is an essential element in the social construction of peace inside Sudan. However, refugees are completely on the soft side, and refuse to return until human security is completely consolidated. In this process, refugees also attach a clear linear sequencing to the peace-building process. Political and security dimensions, including disarmament and establishing security, have to come first for the refugees: It is likely that this is a probably the result of mistrust of the regime under which they are urged to repatriate. This study also shows the importance of justice and reconciliation as tools for attaining sustainable peace (Bertram 1995; Francis 2000; Lambourne 2004). Justice is a complex concept, rich in symbolic, social, economic, legal and psychological meanings and is first and foremost a human need - especially in the aftermath of mass atrocities. However, little research has been done on how justice, reconciliation, conflict resolution and peace relate to each other. Further research is needed to explore the multiple implications this has for peace-building. Also, it is clear that talking about justice in isolation is not enough. This research shows the importance of identifying which of the many forms of justice can promote reconciliation in post-war societies. Does international justice best fulfill the needs of the victims and can it break down the barriers of enmity? What is the damage caused and what are the realistic prospects for success of international arrest warrants issued for head-of-state perpetrators of crimes? These questions are fundamental to avoid re-victimization through border closure, black-boxing and the reduction of humanitarian aid resulting from “fear of foreigners”. Deontological ethics should be carefully counterbalanced with practicality in contexts where those who risk the heaviest burden are already the most vulnerable. The research also confirms that social and economic dynamics, sense of identity and alienation, and the desire to return are strongly shaped by the perception of threat on the ground. Protracted conflict can force the displaced to adopt alternative coping mechanisms which “extract” them from their original social networks, even if the country of origin is still close. In particular, the combination of internal and cross-border displacement poses even greater challenges to the resumption of a status quo ante, where “reintegrating back” means starting completely anew. It is generally acknowledged that protracted family disunity can be alienating during exile, but what is lacking is an understanding of what its negative impacts might be on repatriation. The temporary dimension of exile can lead parents, children, siblings and couples to grow apart and their ties with each other to become weaker than those forged in the camps. How does protracted family disunion negatively affect the displaced in their decisions to repatriate? How far can social rootedness in the camps make up for refugees’ emotional losses? These are possible future research tracks in the effort to address the needs of the displaced.

Photo 6: Children hiding, Bredjing camp

Photo 6: Children hiding, Bredjing camp


110 Sudan’s criminal law is a mix of British, Egyptian and Islamic law as well as sha’aria and local customs; criminal sentences include detention, physical punishment, compensation or death (Parmar 2012).

Table des illustrations

Titre Photo 6: Children hiding, Bredjing camp
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,6M


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