7 May 2013
Tens of thousands of people in Darfur have been displaced by renewed fighting in recent weeks. As they have over the last nine years, Tearfund teams are responding to help these people who in many cases have fled with little or nothing.
Displaced in Darfur: 'The situation here is difficult for us,' says Halima. Photo: Tearfund
The attack came from the east and the west, spreading panic and fear with its gunfire.
For Halima, there was no time to gather any of her family’s possessions. She grabbed her five children and started running.
After making good her escape, the 26-year-old stopped to look back on her community which had become the flashpoint for a vicious tribal conflict. It was now engulfed in flames, a massive fire consuming homes and crop stores.
‘Property burnt down to the ashes,’ recalls Halima. ‘I was so frightened and feared for my children. We are traumatised by the events that happened.’
While some of other fleeing village residents crossed the border into Chad, Halima and her party opted to walk to the town of Um Dukhun, in central Darfur, where Tearfund runs nutrition and community development projects.
The family ended up in a camp on the outskirts of town where they now face many struggles. They are by no means alone.
There are many other people, including women and children, who have taken recently refuge here, as well as those who’ve been displaced for longer periods.
Halima said, ‘The situation here is difficult for us as we don’t have a house and we lost everything in the violence.
‘Our property, our crops and our livelihood is gone. We have nothing to call our own except our children.
‘Now we are stuck. Even if we wanted to go back we can’t because there is no security. Our leaders have requested that we be patient as they coordinate help from organisations like Tearfund.’
The fighting also meant Halima lost a handicraft business that she started after taking part in a Tearfund project. Progress has been now been replaced by uncertainty.
‘I don’t know what the future holds for us. We are approaching the planting season and if we don’t plant this season, and have nothing else, hunger will look into our eyes soon. It will be worse for me and my five children since we have nothing else to depend on.’
It’s estimated this recent fighting has displaced more than 50,000 people. Most of them have fled across the border to Chad where the UN says it has seen its biggest influx of refugees from Sudan since 2005, evidence that after ten years of conflict peace remains elusive in Darfur.
Ali Yahia can testify to that too. For the last seven months the 48-year-old carpenter and his family have been living in a camp in a different part of Darfur after fighting near the town of Nertiti forced them to flee their village.
‘We arrived in the camp suffering from a lack of food and even drinking water,’ says Ali Yahia. ‘Before Tearfund intervened the situation was very bad. The camp was overcrowded, with no water, shelter, latrines or medical care.’
Tearfund helped Ali Yahia and his family when they arrived by providing food, soap, jerry cans, blankets, plastic sheeting and mats.
Lack of sanitation in the camp meant illness spread rapidly, so we also provided materials for the construction of latrines and trained people about good hygiene practices.
Such immediate help is vital for people such as Ali Yahia who recalls that his village has now been attacked three or four times since 2003: ‘We are not at peace about going back unless this situation changes. We want to stay in the camp and start a new life.’
His story is by no means an isolated one. According to the UN, 17,000 people have fled fighting to Nertiti so far and by conservative estimating more than 200,000 have been newly displaced across Darfur since December 2012.
Sarah Pickwick, Tearfund’s Policy Officer for Sudan, said, ‘Sadly although we have reached the tenth anniversary of the conflict in Darfur, violence continues and so does the suffering of the civilian population.
‘However Tearfund remains committed to the people of Darfur, particularly helping those who’ve been displaced get their lives back on track.’