By Eric Reeves
November 27, 2013 (SSNA) — The scale of human destruction and suffering in Darfur is scarcely imaginable, and would not be imaginable at all if we were to depend on the reporting of the UN (either humanitarian agencies or the UN/African Union "hybrid" Mission in Darfur, UNAMID). The grim task of reporting on Darfur’s realities has fallen almost entirely to Radio Dabanga, which next month marks its fifth anniversary of this reporting. It has become an indispensible journalistic resource, all that prevents the first genocide of the 21st century from becoming entirely invisible. Indeed, it is through the eyes of Radio Dabanga and a few critical reports (from the Small Arms Survey and one or two other organizations) that we have seen the changes on the ground, as the extreme violence of village and population destruction that continued through 2007, and even beyond, has given way to an enormously cruel and destructive "genocide by attrition." For we cannot forget that it is the Khartoum regime that has permitted, largely deliberately, the prevailing chaotic violence that targets largely those of non-Arab or African ethnicity.
To be sure, inter-Arab tribal fighting has become an enormous source of destruction and insecurity, in part because Khartoum has clearly taken sides in many instances. In other cases, the absence of the easy spoils that characterized early years of the genocide has produced its own perverse tribal frictions and tensions, as competition over arable and pasturable land appropriated early on continues today. But the bombing of civilians in Jebel Marra targets almost exclusively the African tribal groups of the region; the Zaghawa of eastern Darfur were mercilessly targeted by Khartoum’s military and militia forces after Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) leader Minni Minawi—a Zaghawa—abandoned the regime in late 2010 (see authoritative Small Arms Survey report of July 2012). And above all, the populations in the camps for displaced persons are overwhelmingly of non-Arab ethnicity—and they face the most brutal of assaults and rapidly deteriorating humanitarian conditions. Indeed, those conditions are deteriorating at a rate that is certainly producing a sharp increase in mortality, morbidity, and malnutrition. Were any global assessment permitted by Khartoum—which adamantly refuses such, a refusal that has been accepted by the UN and thus perforce the international organizations that remain in Darfur—this would quickly become apparent.
What follows here is a compendium of reports on just the last week of life in Darfur. I have included only the date, the headline, and a few key sentences from the dispatches. (The minor additional commentary by me is in italics and bracketed; all emphases in dispatches have been added.) The ubiquitous references to "government-armed militias" are especially conspicuous here; we may doubt that these militias are always directly doing the savage business of the regime, but their can be no doubt that this is so in the vast majority of cases; indeed, in many cases the evidence of complicity with the regime is beyond reasonable doubt.
Similarly, the many references to "herders" is Radio Dabanga’s way of designating Arab nomadic pastoralists, typically armed—often heavily. The use of camels for transport is also a signature feature of the Arab militia forces, and we see frequent reference to camels in these dispatches. It was from a number of these Arab tribes, especially in North Darfur, that Khartoum created the infamous militia forces known as the Janjaweed. Though later frequently recycled into other paramilitary guises—the Popular Defense Forces (PDF), Central Reserve Police (Abu Tira), Border Guards, and others—they still provide Khartoum with enormous military and coercive power in Darfur. Total impunity reigns in Darfur, and this is the way in which Khartoum has decided to wage war. In a report from Human Rights Watch in 2007, this approach to counter-insurgency warfare was described as "Chaos by Design." The phrase remains all too apt today. When an August 2004 directive emerged from the headquarters of Musa Hilal, the most notorious of Janjaweed leaders, it put in brief the task that is still being carried out: "Change the demography of Darfur and empty it of African tribes" (reference here).
In the face of this, how can we even speak of an "international community"? Of the "responsibility to protect"? In Darfur, such phrases seem little more than ghastly bad jokes.
From Radio Dabanga (www.radiodabanga.org):
• Air raids burn villages and 400 acres of farmland in Darfur’s East Jebel Marra
EAST JEBEL MARRA (26 November 2013) – The Sudanese Air Force have continued their aerial bombardments on the area of East Jebel Marra for the 15th consecutive day, prompting hundreds of families to flee. Speaking to Radio Dabanga, an East Jebel Marra resident said that since two months Antonovs are bombing the region almost daily: "The ongoing air raids torched villages in East Jebel Marra, and at least 400 acres of millet, sorghum, okra and tomatoes were burned. For the last two weeks, we have been suffering from high-density aerial bombardments on the areas north of El Malam, east of Deribat, and west of Tabit."
• Acute drinking water shortage, "health disaster" in South Darfur camps
KALMA / UTASH camps (26 November 2013) – The Association of Displaced Persons and Refugees of Darfur has expressed its grave concern about the "health disaster" in the South Darfur camps for the displaced due to a lack of adequate hospitals and health centres in comparison with the number of camp residents. Hussein Abu Sharati, the spokesperson for the Association explained to Radio Dabanga there are less than five health centres in Kalma camp, while it houses 260,000 people.
• Militiamen attack bus, two lorries, six shops and a court in three Darfur states
KASS / SARAF OMRA / FORO BARANGA (27 November 2013) – Militiamen robbed bus passengers in South Darfur, two lorries in North Darfur, and the treasuries of the Zakat Bureau and the Foro Baranga court in West Darfur on Monday. One of the victims told Radio Dabanga that "government-backed militiamen" in two Land Cruisers mounted with machine guns intercepted a bus in the area of Jimeiza, north of Kass in South Darfur, en route from Foro Baranga to Nyala.
Sources reported to Radio Dabanga that in the area of Birka Seira, Saraf Omra locality, North Darfur "government-backed militiamen" in two Land Cruisers mounted with machine guns stopped two lorries coming from Jebel Amer. They unloaded all the passengers and the drivers and stripped them of their possessions. They took the two lorries with them. In Foro Baranga Town, West Darfur, militiamen pillaged the court, the Zakat (alms) Bureau and six shops.
• Militiamen kill three, steal vehicle with measles vaccines in West Darfur
EL GENEINA (26 November 2013) -Three people were shot dead by militiamen in two separate incidents on Monday in El Geneina locality, West Darfur. One of the relatives of the slain reported to Radio Dabanga that "government-backed militiamen" opened fire on a farmer and his son when they were returning from their farmland to the Kireinik camp for the displaced on Monday evening. Also on Monday, militiamen ambushed a vehicle loaded with measles vaccines in the area of Boukar, south of El Geneina. They killed the driver and a member of the immunisation team of the Ministry of Health, and fled with the vehicle.
• UNAMID peacekeeper killed in North Darfur attack
EL FASHER (25 November 2013) – An African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) convoy came under attack by unknown gunmen on Sunday in North Darfur. One soldier from Rwanda who was shot during the assault died of his wounds in the Mission’s hospital in Kabkabiya. The death of the Rwandan soldier has now risen to 14 the number of peacekeepers the Mission has lost in 2013 alone. [More than 50 have been killed since deployment in January 2008; scores more have been wounded, many seriously.]
[In what is almost a verbatim rehearsal of what he has said on many occasions, Ban Ki-moon offers mere boilerplate:
The UN Secretary-General in a statement announced he is "deeply disturbed to learn of another attack … by unidentified armed assailants" on a UNAMID convoy. He expresses his sincere condolences to the family of the fallen peacekeeper, and to the Government of the Republic of Rwanda. The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms this attack on UNAMID and expects the Government of Sudan to take swift action to bring the perpetrators of this and previous attacks on the Mission to justice.
[Despite overwhelming evidence in some cases that Khartoum-backed militias are responsible for these attacks on peacekeepers, there have been no investigations or arrests by the regime since UNAMID deployed in January 2008. Ban Ki-moon chooses to ignore this.]
• One dead, four injured in attack on lorries in South Darfur
KASS (24 November 2013) – Gunmen reportedly killed one man and injured four others on Saturday in an attack on a commercial convoy en route from Jimeiza to Kass in South Darfur. A passenger told Radio Dabanga that "government-backed gunmen" in two Land Cruisers mounted with machine guns opened fire on a convoy of four lorries in the area of Kirindi, in the locality of Kass. Yasin El Nur was killed and four others were injured. The gunmen robbed the passengers of all their money and belongings. Also on Saturday, militiamen reportedly ambushed a lorry travelling from Tawila in North Darfur in the area of Amarjadeed, Manawashi locality in South Darfur
• Militiamen rape three women, injure three more in South Darfur
HASHABA, North Darfur (24 November 2013) – Militiamen reportedly raped three women and injured three others of Hashaba camp for the displaced in Mershing locality, South Darfur. A relative of a woman who was raped told Radio Dabanga that "government-backed militiamen" attacked six women on Saturday evening while they were returning to Hashaba camp from a funeral in Manawashi. The militiamen seized the three women and alternately raped them until late on Saturday night. Another three elderly women were whipped and beaten with rifle butts.
[Rape remains a terrible epidemic in Darfur, with many tens of thousands of girls and women sexually assaulted since conflict began. See "Rape as a Continuing Weapon of War," March 4, 2012 at http://wp.me/p45rOG-Kw.]
• Man and pregnant wife injured by grenade in West Darfur camp
GARSILA (24 November 2013) – A man and his wife were seriously injured when militiamen tossed a hand grenade at them in one of the Garsila camps for the displaced in West Darfur. One of the camp sheikhs reported to Radio Dabanga that on Saturday three militiamen intended to steal the motorcycle of Razek Fadul Ahmed Eisa and his pregnant wife….
• "No food, medicines, protection" in ten South Darfur camps
MERSHING (24 November 2013) – The ten Mershing camps for the displaced in South Darfur are suffering from a severe food shortage, lack of medicines, and a deterioration of the security situation in the locality. A resident from El Tom Kitir camp in the locality of Mershing reported to Radio Dabanga that they have not received their food rations since September…. The camp resident explained that this would not be such a big problem had the planting season been successful this year. "And the crops that could be harvested were eaten by the camels and cattle of herdsmen who graze them on our farmlands by force of arms. Many farmers have been assaulted, shot, or injured while tending their farms."
• Farmers call on Sudan-Chad forces "not to support herdsmen"
SIRBA (24 November 2013) – In Sirba, West Darfur, a number of farmers were reportedly wounded during an assault by herdsmen. The spokesperson for the Sirba camps reported to Radio Dabanga that a group of armed herdsmen released their camels and livestock on farmlands at gunpoint on on Sunday morning. When the farmers protested, the herdsmen severely whipped them and beat them with batons. Three farmers were seriously wounded… The farmers call on the joint Sudan-Chad forces "to maintain their neutrality and not to support herdsmen assaulting farmers."
[Chadian involvement in the conflict along the Chad/Darfur border is bound to create more instability; see excerpts from Amnesty International report below.]
• "We do not dare light a cooking fire": East Jebel Marra residents
EAST JEBEL MARRA (19 November 2013) – An Antonov of the Sudanese Air Force reportedly killed two men south of Dady in East Jebel Marra. Speaking to Radio Dabanga, villagers in East Jebel Marra reported that Jar el-Nabi Salem Mohamed and Mahjoub Haroun Musa were killed when an Antonov bombed them at about 12am of 19 November. The men were on their way to Nimra with their carts loaded with sorghum harvested at their farmlands south of Dady. The bombardment also ignited fires in the area that burned until the evening. The villagers noted that the conditions in which they have to live, have become extremely bad. "We are afraid to leave out houses, go to our farmlands or the market, or even to light a fire to cook on."
They added that on Monday afternoon, the "government forces" stationed in Tabit started firing their heavy weapons and mortars in the direction of the villages of Kutu and Karfoula, located 5km west of Tabit.
[For those who think that village destruction in Darfur largely ended in 2005, such reports should make for sobering reading.]
• Clashes between herders and farmers in North Darfur
KORMA (22 November 2013) – At least 3 people were killed and others wounded in clashes between herders and farmers around Korma in El Fasher locality, North Darfur. One farmer told Radio Dabanga that herders "armed by the government" let their camels and cattle graze on their farms on Wednesday. When the herders were confronted by the farmers they opened fire on them, killing one farmer and injuring others.
• 2,000 infected with kala-azar in North Darfur
EL FASHER (23 November 3013) – A medical officer reported that there are 2,160 patients infected with the kala-azar disease among the displaced people in Zam Zam camp in El Fasher, North Darfur. 1,500 of these patients are infected with skin kala-azar, and 660 with membrane kala-azar, which is "a killer" according to the medical officer. He said that the costs of treatment per patient amounted to SDG600 ($100). No cure or health care has been established by the Sudanese government or humanitarian organizations for kala-azar since the disease emerged in 2009. There also is no commercial clinic in El Fasher treating patients carrying this parasitic disease.
[Kala Azar is an extremely difficult disease to treat, and yet without treatment death is almost certain.]
• Militias beat women in Garsila camp, Central Darfur
GARSILA (23 November 2013) – Militias beat and wounded a number of displaced people in camp El Jebelein near Garsila in Wadi Salih locality, Central Darfur. One of the sheikhs of the camp told Radio Dabanga that militias on camels and horses attacked farmers in the area of camp El Jebelein, and beat them with whips and rifle butts. Two of them, both female and one of them with a two-month-old child, were seriously injured and transferred to the Garsila hospital for treatment.
• Doctors stopped from working in South Darfur camp
NYALA (23 November 2013) – Doctors stopped working in three health centres at Atash camp, near Nyala in South Darfur since last Wednesday. Government forces stormed the site days earlier for an inspection and prevented doctors from working. The closing of health centres in the camp caused a "health crisis and fear" among the displaced people, according to the spokesman of Atash. "If doctors do not resume work within the camp, it will cause a major crisis," he said.
Separately, Atash residents are experiencing a lack of gas for eight days, the spokesman explained. "The lack of gas may cause disruption with the 33 water pumps inside the camp." According to a woman working in the camp, the organization does not have the funding to solve the problem of the water pumps and wants to leave the financing to the displaced themselves.
[Among the many examples of how badly the budget of the Khartoum regime is distorted is the failure to provide any meaningful assistance to those in Darfur, even if it means a loss of access to water—with dehydration and desperation for water in any form looming as causes of large-scale mortality. Khartoum simultaneously excoriates international relief organizations and yet offers nothing substantial in the way of Sudanese resources.]
• Displaced man shot by militiamen in Central Darfur
NIERTETI (November 23, 2013) – A man was shot dead on Thursday by militiamen in a camp for internally displaced people in Niertiti locality, Central Darfur. A witness told Radio Dabanga the militiamen opened fire on the displaced Suleiman Ahmed when he was working at his ranch, about one kilometer east of the camp. They killed him on the spot.
• Displaced people killed and injured by militiamen across Darfur
DARFUR (25 November 2013) – Militiamen have wounded a number of people in the Utash camp for the displaced in Nyala, South Darfur. The spokesperson for the Atash camps reported to Radio Dabanga that on Saturday about 16 "government-backed militiamen on camels and horses" assaulted a group of people who were on their way to Wadi Andur, 2km east of Utash camp to collect firewood and straw. The gunmen bound them for about two hours, beating and whipping them. Zahra Khater Adam, Maryam Muhamed Ali, Salha Musa Mohamed, Karima Abdelnabi, Aisha Mukhtar Mohamed, Laila Abakar Suleiman, Salha Jibril Yahya, Mohamed Ishag, and Yahya Mohamed Ishag were seriously injured.
In Central Darfur, militiamen killed Bishara Bahar Hasaballah at the El Salam camp for the displaced in Nierteti on Sunday evening. One of the camp sheikhs told Radio Dabanga that 1km west of Nierteti, militiamen on camels attacked a number of women, returning from their farmlands to El Salam camp. When the gunmen attempted to rape some of the women, Hasaballah intervened upon which they shot him dead and fled. A "rescue team" of camp residents and policemen followed the militiamen’s tracks that led them to a village of herdsmen "armed by the government."
In North Darfur, militiamen slew Abbas Abdallah El Nur of the Kassab camp in the locality of Kutum, on Sunday evening. Taher Ismail, Sheikh of the Kassab camp told Radio Dabanga that three gunmen opened fire on El Nur at about 5pm at Bir El Faki, 4km northeast of the Kassab camp, where he had led his cattle to drink from the well.
• Three die as Sudanese Air Force bombs car transferring woman in labour
EAST JEBEL MARRA (20 November 2013) – A man and two women, one of them in labour, were reportedly killed by a Sudanese Air Force bombardment in North Darfur on Wednesday morning. Relatives told Radio Dabanga that Najwa Bahreldin Musa…was accompanied by Hawaaya Seifeldin Saleh. When the car reached the area between Fanga and El Aradeeb El Ashara, at 8:20am, an Antonov bombed it. One bomb fell in front of the car, another behind it and a third one landed directly on the car. All three passengers (as well as Najwa’s unborn infant) died.
• Sudanese army, Abu Tira, police storm South Darfur camp
NYALA (20 November 2013) – A force of Sudan Armed Forces troops, policemen and Central Reserve Forces (Abu Tira) troops in 35 Land Cruisers, stormed Atash camp for the displaced in Nyala, South Darfur at 7am on Wednesday morning. Camp residents told Radio Dabanga that the government forces have arrested five of them. The forces searched the houses, "taking mobile phones, money, and household items."
[Theft, kidnapping for ransom, extortion schemes, highjackings, and direct assaults are all commonplace in the life of the camps.]
• WFP will contract Sudanese traders to provide food rations to displaced in Darfur EL FASHER (19 November 2013) – The residents of the Zam Zam camp for the displaced, southwest of El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, have demanded the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to reconsider its decision regarding the provision and distribution of food rations by traders. A camp resident told Radio Dabanga that the WFP notified them that in 2014 it would contract Sudanese traders to provide the displaced with food rations of millet, corn, sugar, oil and salt. The residents, however, fear that the decision will reflect negatively on them "because the traders have no sufficient financial and logistic capabilities to provide such food rations, especially since most of the foodstuffs have to be imported from outside the state because the crop yields this year are limited."
[This decision by WFP reflects the diminishing humanitarian capacity in Darfur, where there are fewer and fewer "implementing partners" for food distribution. Using "traders"—frequently unscrupulous—to distribute food is a sign of desperation.]
• State of Emergency, curfew imposed in three Central Darfur localities
UM DUKHUN / BINDISI / MUKJAR (26 November 2013) – The governor of Central Darfur, Dr Yousef Tibin, has announced a State of Emergency for the localities of Um Dukhun, Bindisi, and Mukjar, and imposed a curfew from 8pm until 8am. A resident of Um Dukhun reported to Radio Dabanga that large-scale searches and screening started on Tuesday. This was carried out by a force of army, security, police, and Central Reserve Forces (Abu Tira) troops in 72 vehicles, in addition to the joint Sudanese-Chadian forces in 47 vehicles. They started their inspection of the market, the city districts, and the areas around the city, in search of weapons. The residents of Um Dukhun camps for the displaced told Radio Dabanga that they have not received food rations for four consecutive months. "We are living in very difficult conditions, especially since most of the traffic has stopped, for quite some time now, due to tribal conflicts in the area." They noted that all their savings have run out. "Many families are now surviving on one meal a day."
• Militiamen "in Abu Tira uniforms" attack North Darfur camp
EL FASHER / SARAF OMRA (18 November 2013) – Several displaced people of the Abu Shouk camp in El Fasher locality, North Darfur, reportedly sustained various injuries during an attack by militiamen on 16 November. One of the camp sheikhs told Radio Dabanga that "government-backed militiamen wearing Central Reserve Forces (Abu Tira) uniforms attacked a number of Abu Shouk camp residents inside their houses at about 8pm on Saturday."
In Birkat Seira in Saraf Omra the locality, North Darfur, militiamen attacked Sheikh El Nur Abkar and Abdallah Dumma inside their homes. They beat them with rifle butts and whipped them so severely that both had to be treated in the Saraf Omra hospital.
In another incident, two commercial vehicles on their way from Saraf Omra to Kabkabiya were attacked by militiamen in the area of Birka Seira.
• Militiamen steal vehicle from foreign organisation in North Darfur
KUTUM (20 November 2013) – Militiamen reportedly stole a vehicle belonging to a foreign organisation working in the field of water provision, near Fata Borno in the locality of Kutum in North Darfur. Sources told Radio Dabanga that on 19 November militiamen ambushed the vehicle on its way from Damra to Kutum. They unloaded the driver and four other passengers, robbing them of their money and luggage and took the vehicle to an unknown destination. The sources affirmed that the militiamen who hijacked two vehicles with all passengers on the road between Tarma and Rofta on 17 November, are the same ones who stole the foreign organisation’s vehicle.
• South Darfur residents flee "heavy army" gunfire
MANAWASHI (20 November 2013) – More than 18 vehicles of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) reportedly launched heavy gunfire north of Manawashi in Mershing locality, South Darfur, on Tuesday. The sounds of the shooting caused the residents to flee to nearby valleys and forests. The force was returning from Kadaneer Garrison north of the city, after providing logistic supplies for soldiers of the government stationed there.
• One farmer dead, four injured in assaults by herdsmen in West and Central Darfur MURNEI / AZUM (20 November 2013) – Herdsmen reportedly shot and killed a Murnei camp resident when he protested against the grazing of their livestock on his farmland in West Darfur. A relative of the deceased told Radio Dabanga that on Tuesday a number of herders "armed by the government" released their camels and cattle on the farmland of Abdallah Abakar Adam. When he resisted, they opened fire on him and killed him on the spot…. On the same day, 19 November, a farmer from Wadi Um Shalaya, Azum locality in Central Darfur reported to Radio Dabanga that armed herdsmen wanted to graze their camels and cattle on their farmlands. The farmers protested upon which the herders whipped them and beat them severely with batons. Two men (one of them 70 years old) and two women were seriously injured.
Darfur farmers demand protection against herdsmen (12 November 2013)
Two farmers injured by herders in Central Darfur (12 November 2013)
Herders torch crops, militia assaults farmers in West Darfur (23 October 2013)
Darfur farmers: ‘armed herdsmen grazing ahead of schedule’ (15 October 2013)
Farmers in four Darfur states threatened by ‘armed herders’ (4 October 2013)e.
• Shortages in Chad camps for Darfuri refugees
FARCHANA / TREGUINE (26 November 26, 2013) – The Farchana refugee camp in eastern Chad is suffering from a severe shortage of medicines and medical staff. Mohamed Dafallah, the head of the camp, told Radio Dabanga that people being ill have to queue from the early morning until the evening to see the doctor at the camp health centre. "There is only one doctor for the population of the camp totalling more than 26,000 refugees. The suffering of the patients extends beyond seeing a doctor because they often do not get the medication prescribed as their conditions do not allow them to buy it at the pharmacy due to the high medicine prices."
Treguine refugee camp
The Sudanese refugees of the Treguine camp in eastern Chad have renewed their demands to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the humanitarian organisations working in the field of water to provide them with potable water. Ali Yagoub, the head of the camp, told Radio Dabanga that until now they have been getting their water supply from traditional wells, due to the collapse of the only water well in the camp a year ago. The water from the traditional wells is unsafe for drinking.
[The more than 320,000 Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad are, if it is possible, even less visible, and less well served by humanitarian organizations, than the displaced who have remained in Darfur. Again, the refugee population is overwhelmingly of non-Arab or African ethnicity. They do in many cases enjoy a measure of security unavailable anywhere in Darfur.]
There is also information, often of limited value, provided by other reporting bodies, including UN OCHA and human rights groups. Amnesty International recently released a report on the situation along the Chad/Darfur border, which is increasingly dangerous, indeed explosive:
Tension is building fast along the Chad/Sudan border. The signs of a worsening human rights situation in Sudan’s neighbouring Darfur region have been growing for months, including while we have been travelling in areas close to the border during this mission. Fighting and human rights abuses are always more prevalent during the dry season. And the end of the rainy season this year has certainly brought a sharp increase in violence. Fighting is raging between various ethnic groups on the Darfur side of the border, particularly between two Arab tribes, the Salamat and Misseriya, who have been allies in the past. More villages are being attacked and left in ruins. That means more people killed and injured. It also means more women and girls being raped, though it is as of yet impossible to get a clear read on how widespread that has become. Homes and businesses are being set on fire and destroyed. Looting and theft, of livestock and personal property, is pervasive.
And tens of thousands of people are on the move. More than 30,000 have crossed over into Chad as refugees since the beginning of the year, the highest number to flee in years. Some have settled in refugee camps, others remain dispersed near the border. Untold thousands more are newly displaced in Darfur, where they are too far from the border to reach safety in Chad. Capacity to assist refugees in remote areas of eastern Chad is already strained and will be all the more so if there is another large influx.
Meanwhile, relations between Chad and Sudan—which have been amicable since 2010 after years of belligerence, cross-border clashes, and support for armed opposition groups—appear to be increasingly strained because the current violence is so close to their shared border. Chad fears that the fighting might again spill over into its territory, as it has in the past. Sudan assumes that armed groups carrying out attacks in Sudan may use refugee camps in Chad for shelter. If the two countries return to warmongering and finger-pointing, that will almost certainly not make things any easier for Darfuris displaced on either side of the border
Yet the world does not seem to be paying close attention. In the same camp, meeting with a group of Sheikhs representing the Masalit community, our Amnesty delegation was thanked profusely for coming. They told us they are very grateful for all that the international community is doing to provide them with food and water. But they asked us if the rest of the world knows how quickly things are "changing for the worse" in Darfur? Last Thursday, 14 November, as we prepared to leave the area surrounding Abgadam Camp, fighting along the border intensified again. Reports came in of several people killed, and people on the Chadian side of the border described seeing villages in Darfur engulfed in smoke.
And there is increasing talk of possibly relocating refugees to a new camp further away from the border. It would be an understatement to say that Abgadam is located in a very volatile area. At the same time it is where the refugees want to be. They have close ties with the Chadian population in this area and feel that they are close enough to go back home as soon as it becomes safe to do so. When we have asked refugees at Abgadam what they thought of the possibility that they might be transferred to a new site several hundred kilometres further inside Chad, we hear nothing but defiance. One elderly man told me: "I’m too old to be moved to a place where we have no friends. I won’t go. I’d rather go back and die in Darfur or even die right here." ("’It always feels like something is about to explode’: Tensions along the Chad Darfur border," by Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada, November 19, 2013)
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs recently offered a statistic that reveals a great deal about the security of humanitarian operations and personnel in Darfur: 97 per cent of the 6,600 aid workers in Darfur are Sudanese; only 3 percent are expatriate. These figures suggest that Khartoum’s pressure to "Sudanize" relief efforts in Darfur have largely succeeded. With considerable justification, the regime feels that it is much easier to control, i.e., intimidate, Sudanese relief workers than international workers. WFP’s use of traders to provide and distribute food rations to the displaced is but one sign of a much larger phenomenon.
With UNAMID unable to protect itself, let alone the civilians and humanitarians its mandate charges the force to protect, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations is facing an increasingly difficult decision: to pull the financial plug on what has been the largest, most costly, and least effective peacekeeping mission in the history of UN operations—or to continue to apply this cosmetic band-aid on a crisis of staggering proportions that only grows larger and more deadly by the day. In the absence of any other option, UN DPKO will likely continue to field UNAMID, trying on desperate pretexts to draw it down ("improved security" was the preposterous explanation offered by Hervé Ladsous, head of UN peacekeeping, in early summer 2012, when he mooted the idea of reducing the force by some 4,000 troops).
With the "international community" unwilling to apply real, concerted pressure on Khartoum—compelling it to face the consequences of its extraordinarily profligate ways and the economic crisis that has resulted—there seems no hopeful prospect for the suffering people of Darfur.
Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. His most recent book on Sudan is Compromising With Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012.