‘We’re not safe’: Darfur violence sparks new displacement crisis

Almost five times as many people have been newly displaced in Sudan’s strife-torn region in the first months of this year compared with the whole of 2020.


A July 30, 2020 shows residents displaced from violent attacks in squat on blankets and in hastily made tents in the village of Masteri in West Darfur, Sudan [File: Mustafa Younes/AP Photo]

By Zeinab Mohammed Salih

Khartoum, Sudan – For nearly two months now, Mariam Hussain has taken shelter at a university building in El Geneina, the capital of Sudan’s West Darfur state.

The mother of eight, along with thousands of other already internally displaced people (IDP), fled there after armed militiamen on April 4 stormed Abu-Zar camp and burned it down amid a resurgence of violence between members of the region’s Masalit and Arab communities. “You only carry your children and the most important papers and run,” said the 56-year-old, who has already been displaced twice since the beginning of the war in Darfur nearly 20 years ago.


Witnesses accused militias affiliated with the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – a paramilitary unit established from the remnants of the former “Janjaweed” militia which is blamed for past atrocities – of attacking the site that hosted some 14,000 people. The flare-up grew out of a shooting that killed two people from the Masalit community, according to the United Nations humanitarian affairs agency, with both sides then mobilising armed men.


“Because of a problem between some people, militiamen attacked so many neighbourhoods in Hai al-Jabal first, killing and burning, till they entered Abu-Zar camp,” Hussain told Al Jazeera on the phone. “They came on nine vehicles with their DShK [Russian anti-aircraft weapon] to burn our camp, so we ran away,” she said.

“How can we stay in the fire and burning?”


The latest bout of fighting killed at least 130 people and prompted Sudan’s government to declare a state of emergency in the region. It came on the back of waves of violence in and around El Geneina, as well as other parts of Darfur and South Kordofan causing hundreds of deaths. The escalation also forced the UN to suspend all humanitarian activities in El Geneina, an aid-delivery hub, in a decision affecting more than 700,000 people.


Many of the city’s government buildings have now been turned to makeshift hosting sites for IDP fleeing militia attacks on their camps.


According to the UN, in the first four months of this year, some 237,000 people have been newly displaced, almost five times as many people for the whole of 2020.


This coincides with the withdrawal since the start of the year of joint UN-African Union peacekeeping forces (UNAMID), set up in 2007 to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian aid.


The pulling out followed the signing of an ambitious peace deal in October last year between some rebel groups and Sudan’s transitional government in Juba, the capital of neighbouring South Sudan. The groups that signed the landmark agreement, most of whom hail from the Zaghawa community in north Darfur, included the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Army-Minni Minawi (SLA-MM). JEM’s Gebril Ibrahim has since become Sudan’s finance minister, while SLA-MM’s Mini Minawi has been appointed governor of Darfur.


But an SLA faction led by Abdelwahid Mohamed al-Nour, which draws support from the Fur tribe, did not sign the deal.


Meanwhile, there have been complaints over the implementation of the Juba deal, which sets out terms to integrate rebels into the security forces, be politically represented and have economic and land rights, by some of the signatories.


© Copyright 2021 Al Jazeera