Darfur voices: New arrivals

There was a bowl of dust and as if like a mirage – a battered green land Rover appeared on the horizon and then disappeared, only to remerge a few minutes later, as it came closer it was clear to see that its cargo was people and their belongings piled high on its roof, hurtling towards the outskirts of Hamadia camp.

*Sheik Haroon, a local camp leader, was watching the vehicle approach, ready to greet the new arrivals. It was only when the vehicle stopped at the edge of the temporary camp for new arrivals, that Sheikh Haroon recognised these latest new arrivals as his own family.

He clung to his relatives in an emotional reunion embrace and other members of the community circled and welcomed them.

“UN reports that the first half of 2014 saw 390,000 people displaced in Darfur, more than in any single year since the height of the crisis in 2004.” Photo: Annie Bungerouth/ACT-Caritas

Then a wheelbarrow appeared, padded with old blankets, and from inside the car an elderly frail woman was carried out, it was the Sheik’s 86 year-old mother.

Sheik Haroon’s family had to make the difficult decision to leave their village because of ongoing conflict, and join the more than 66,000 other homeless people living in Hamadia camp in Central Darfur.

The Sheik last saw his mother eleven years ago. Overcome with emotion, but relieved that every member of his family was safe, he explained that it is difficult for men to move around outside of the camp’s confines. Often they face arrest and physical abuse can be meted out against them.

The Sheik’s sister still clinging to his arm gives him the latest news of home and how they made the journey to Hamadia.

“I can’t believe that I have had to pack up all my belongings and make the journey here to safety.

Sister of the Shiek * Hawa (in picture) “Security is very bad in our village; there is looting and killings. We couldn’t stay any longer. We packed the vehicle late at night, and early in the morning, saying prayers, we quickly made our departure. Photo: Annie Bungerouth/ACT-Caritas

“We couldn’t stay any longer. We packed the vehicle late at night, and early in the morning, when the militia men were saying prayers we quickly made our departure.”

The UN reports that in the first half of 2013, there was a surge in the number of people fleeing violence, and finding refuge inside Darfur’s permanent camps. This is more than the number of people fleeing in the previous two years.

Caritas’s partner Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) is concerned by the continued steady flow of new arrivals – on foot, donkey and hired vehicle – this year as well. They say that this sudden spike in numbers will put a strain on limited funds and resources.

The Sheik’s family will have to set up camp and join the 300 or so other people who have built make-shift shelters with whatever, pieces of plastic, blankets, tarpaulin they can find, held together with sticks.

The camp has no sanitation, no clinics and no access to water, but NCA have a frontline team called the Emergency Preparedness Response Unit (EPRU), they register the new arrivals; check their general circumstances, and the number of children and adults in each family. Each family receives essential household items such as: jerry cans, soap, plastic mats, and mosquito nets.

“The new arrivals camp has no sanitation, no clinics and no access to water, Norwegian Church Aid, humanitarian response team are on the frontline registering arrivals and assessing their circumstances.” Photo: Annie Bungerouth/ACT-Caritas

The EPRU have prioritised the building of a latrine block, as the new arrivals have set up their makeshift dwellings at very close quarters to each other. No one wants to spread out, as people feel that there is safety in numbers if they all huddle together. But, this kind of living means that disease such as diarrhea can spread very quickly and be life-threatening to vulnerable family members such as children under five and the elderly.

Swirling gusts of wind fill the air with the smell of dust and the taste of grit. The camp residents do their best to keep their flimsy unstable shelters from toppling over. As the Haboud – sand storm – picks up, it’s a reminder of how inhospitable this flat, sandy and barren landscape can be, and the difficult journeys and choices that people make to reach safety.

“God has granted us a safe journey to you brother, says the Sheik’s sister.

“We must start our life again here. Only peace will allow us to return home.”

You can support our work by donating to our emergency response fund, and by praying for peace.

* Name changed on request

Caritas Internationalis

President: Cardinal Luis Antonio Gokim Tagle
Secretary General: Michel Roy

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