UNICEF officer describes the plight of displaced families in a Darfur camp

© UNICEF Darfur/2006/Nguyen
New patients register at a makeshift clinic in Darfur’s Ottash Camp, where some 300 cases are seen every day.

By Phuong Nguyen

UNICEF Project Officer Phuong Nguyen sends this firsthand account of conditions in Ottash Camp, where an upsurge in the violence in Darfur has brought  thousands of women, children and men fleeing their homes in search of safety.

NYALA, South Darfur, Sudan, 29 November 2006 – Colourful fabrics strewn across thorn bushes greet us as we drive through. Men and women fasten sticks and twigs into giant, bug-shaped structures, which when completed will be their new homes.

Pieces of cardboard, plastic bags, clothes and straw mats comprise the rest of their construction materials. Personal possessions are dumped on the ground. As the parents work, their babies and young children sit under the relentless sun. 

A quarter of a mile away, two UNICEF tents have been erected by the non-governmental organization Humedica. This makeshift mobile clinic was established days after scores of newly displaced people arrived in Ottash. Many of them were physically and emotionally exhausted.

© UNICEF Darfur/2006/Nguyen
Families arrive at Ottash Camp after travelling for days or even weeks to reach safety.

Witnesses to chaos

Staffed by one doctor, a medical assistant, a vaccinator and a pharmacist clerk, the mobile clinic has been treating 300 cases a day. 

Illnesses include bloody diarrhoea, malaria, intestinal infection and eye and skin diseases. People have travelled for days and weeks on foot, donkey or by commercial lorries, collecting water from stagnant puddles left over from the rainy season. 

Young children hang tightly to their mothers. Many have witnessed shootings, beatings and sexual attacks by armed men, and watched their homes looted and burned. Some were separated from their families in the chaos as people ran to save their lives. In one heartening development, a UNICEF-supported tracing programme has reunited 36 children with their families at Ottash over a period of three weeks.

No way home

These victims of the latest fighting in Darfur pin their hopes on organizations such as UNICEF to protect them and provide for their basic needs. But even that security is limited; women in particular fear attacks against them if they move beyond the boundaries of the camp. In recent days, four women and one boy have been reported missing after leaving the camp to collect firewood.

People here do not believe they can return to their villages because those who attacked them have probably taken over their homes.

But as the sun sets at the end of another day in Ottash, the shy smiling faces of women and children peer out from under their shelters. Against the odds, the human spirit in Darfur has a resilience that never fails to amaze.



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