Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Sudan/Darfur: the refugees who went home

I posted this story a couple of days ago ... and something about it kept nagging at me.
Some 3,000 Sudanese who fled fighting in the troubled Darfur region several months ago have left makeshift camps and returned to their homes around Al-Fashir, a state newspaper [Al-Anbaa] said.

[...] Both Powell and Annan, due to arrive here Tuesday and Wednesday respectively, are scheduled to tour camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Al-Fashir that Al-Anbaa said are now being voluntarily evacuated by their inhabitants wanting to resume normal lives at home.
Finally found the story (from mid-May) that had sown that doubt ...
Although IDPs have repeatedly said they would return home to West Darfur only when the Janjaweed militia are disarmed and when there is security, the government was insisting on immediate IDP return. Traditional leaders were being pressured or persuaded to cooperate, or else they were replaced, OCHA [UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs] said.

The authorities in West Darfur's capital, Geneina, replaced "the vocal community committee" of traditional leaders in Sisi camp with more conciliatory representatives, it said.
Powell told reporters yesterday that he is aware that the government of Sudan might try to empty the refugee camps or intimidate people into silence in order to give a false impression of the situation.
Yes, I’ve been to places like this before and I know what can be arranged. [...] I will take into account everything I hear. I think I can sort out where people are constrained from speaking.

We have been watching these places very carefully through a variety of means and we know what they look like, how many people have been there in the past and if suddenly there aren’t that many people there tomorrow, I will take that all into my computer.
And we have this story ... constrained from speaking?
The Sudanese Government dispatched 500 men this week to Abu Shouk, a sweltering camp of 40,000 near El Fashir, capital of North Darfur state, the refugees and aid workers said.

The men, some dressed in civilian clothes, others in military uniforms, warned the refugees to keep quiet about their experiences when the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, visit the region this week.
UPDATE: On Thursday, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan visited the Zam Zam and the Abu Shouk refugee camps. However, when he arrived at another camp at Meshtel, all the refugees, all 5,000 people, were gone, moved ...
Between Wednesday evening and Thursday lunchtime, about 1,000 families were transported by Sudanese authorities from a camp at Meshtel to a more established camp at Abu Shouk, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said today.

[...] Mr. Dujarric said the IDPs had told relief workers that they had been pressured to move quickly to Abu Shouk. Humanitarian agencies said that while this camp has better conditions for the IDPs, prior consultation would have allowed them to prepare its facilities and provisions to take account of the new arrivals.
Regarding the first story in this post ... please note that the name of the refugee camp is not mentioned in the story. The story just says that the people left the makeshift camps are around Al-Fashir. Even though Meshtel is also near El-Fashir, I can't be sure that it is the same story/same camp.