Sudan

Frontline Diary

8 June 2004: Visiting the Kassab camp for displaced people

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/HQ04-0286/Nesbitt
UNICEF Khartoum Assistant Commmunication Officer Sandrine Martin with children in the Abu Shouk camp, El Fasher, North Darfur.
Sandrine Martin, UNICEF’s Assistant Communication Officer in Sudan, is travelling through Sudan’s Darfur region.  Here’s her diary entry giving her personal view on what is happening there.

KUTUM, 8 June 2004—Sand, sand, and sand again… in this area north of El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state, the environment is pretty hostile heading towards Kutum. Sandy desert, rocky desert and bushy desert areas, living conditions here are already quite hard while temperatures can soar very high, often above 50 degrees Celsius.

Villages made of thatched huts are scattered throughout. Villagers attacked by militias have had to walk for days in this hostile environment. They search for water points while collecting wild fruits to fill their empty stomachs. Fearful of encountering other armed militias on their way to a safer place, they must watch their backs at all times. The camps were settled in the sand, with very few trees. Water is a crucial issue.

In the Kassab camp for displaced people, just outside Kutum town, the situation is very difficult. Water points are not nearly enough for the 30,000 persons living here. The number of latrines is still insufficient, and progress in digging more of them is quite slow. Stress triggers daily conflicts between residents. The rainy season is expected within a couple of weeks, but this will not help the sanitation problems; indeed, they will get worse.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/HQ04-0270/Christine Nesbitt
Faisa writes on blackboard in class, Kassab camp, Kutum, North Darfur.
Faisa is an 18-year-old girl sharing a little tent with her family. “We have to get up very early to fetch water,” she says. “There are many people and it takes a long time, usually from 6 AM to 8 AM, we are busy only getting water. After that we can go to school.” For Faisa and her siblings, it will be their first time attending school. “In our village there is no school. The nearest school is too far to walk so our father teaches us himself. He reads the Koran to us.”

Helping children to continue their education in a camp for displaced people is a real challenge. Displaced people arrived with next to nothing, and host communities were not prepared for such an influx of people. In order to accommodate more than 2,000 school-aged children in this camp, UNICEF has supported the construction of temporary classrooms. These are still not enough; an estimated 1,000 children will not have access to education. Even for those who can attend school, the learning conditions are barely acceptable.

A total of 2,300 children are now registered in Kassab School, but 70 per cent of them attend only the morning session. At 10 o’clock, they should have their breakfast, but school feeding has not yet been implemented. The school principal says: “It is difficult to keep hungry children at school. Most of them go back to their tent to get something to eat, and few return to their classroom after that.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/HQ04-0269/Christine Nesbitt
Faisa (seated, second from right) in classroom, Kassab camp, Kutum, North Darfur.
Thanks to UNICEF assistance, about 40,000 displaced children in the Darfur region can attend school. However, the estimated number of school-aged children is about 400,000 and UNICEF is already running short of funds to build more temporary classrooms. The needs are enormous. Aside from a safe place to learn, the children must also have notebooks, textbooks, pencils, blackboards and basic furniture.

Most of the displaced people we met recall the same pattern of attack on villages: Men on horses and camels attacking the villages, followed by others in cars. On the way to Fataborno, about 15 km west of Kutum, traces of an attack that took place in January were still visible: Huts looted and burned, pots and utensils scattered about. The mosque is the only building that was not destroyed.

The bright eyes of the children have lost their joy. They play silently, and their laugh is not as spontaneous as it should be. Going to school helps them to envision a brighter future. Faisa now thinks of studying more: “I would like to be a teacher so that I could educate the children of my village for years to come.” Even while hoping to overcome her daily stress and fear, Faisa still does not feel secure. “We cannot even go out of the camp because they will attack anyone who does. They are everywhere. We managed to buy another donkey to replace the one that was taken from us, but we cannot feed him. We don’t have any grass and it is too dangerous to go out to collect some.”

The next morning, I meet Faisa on her way to school. She feels more comfortable today and is quite talkative: “You know, there is something else that I did not tell you yesterday. We have a lot of women in the camp who have been raped.” Victims face the possibility of social stigma. This is a recurrent topic of discussion among women within the camps around El Fasher.

On the bumpy tracks between El Fasher and Kutum, we pass a number of villages that have not been attacked, despite the fact that they are home to the Fur people, the same tribes who fill the camps by thousands. Attacks on Fur villages were not as systematic as reported by some international media. It is still difficult to get the whole picture of what is happening here.

The displaced people themselves seem not to understand why they were attacked. Abdallah Youssef Mohamed, the father of Faisa, keeps repeating: “I don’t know, we are poor and simple people, I don’t understand why they take all of our meagre resources.”


 

 

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