Few elderly people manage reach the relative safety of camps when they flee their homes because of fighting. "This is the grandmother of our village," says a group of women and girls who have fled their village out of fear that it would be attacked, following a spate of attacks in their region.
By Charlotte Brudenell, ACT-Caritas
The heart sinks as the brain tries to make sense of the scene presented by the eyes. This is a strange field bamboo canes and sticks covered with an amalgamation of pieces of plastic sheeting, matting, sacks and cloth. These semi-circular and square mounds, just big enough for a few people to shelter inside, are refuge for thousands of people.
More than 10,000 people have arrived in Otash camp
Over the past two months, more than 10,000 people have arrived in Otash camp, fleeing attacks on their homes in the Tulus and Buram localities in Sudan’s South Darfur province.
"At 6 o’clock on the morning of the 30th of August, 100 uniformed, armed men, riding camels and horses and some driving cars with big guns in the back, attacked our village," says Sherif, recounting a sequence of events that is all too familiar in the Darfur conflict.
"The attackers stole all the assets in our houses," he continues. "And if they found any man, they would shoot him directly," adds his cousin, Adam.
For three days, there was a sustained attack on the villages of El Amoud el Akhdar, Buram. All 49 villages were burnt, 47 people were killed, including 15 children, and nearly 2,000 people were injured in the attacks.
"We have lost many of our relatives, particularly our elders and children, and we don’t know what has happened to them," explains Sherif. Four hundred people are missing.
Those who were able to flee took their sheep, cows and donkeys with them, but they were attacked again on the way to safety and lost everything. "Even our clothes and shoes were taken," says Sherif. "We arrived in Otash camp carrying nothing in our hands."
Desperate need for humanitarian assistance
The existing services in the camp cannot support such a large influx of people. There is a desperate need for humanitarian assistance.
Hundreds of recent arrivals spent several days under the shelter of large baobab trees before they were able to rustle together enough materials to make the tiny shelters now covering the dusty landscape. Some of the people who arrived last month have now received more robust shelters, but they are not adequate.
There are no latrines for the new arrivals, people are sick with diarrhea and malaria, and children’s noses run more constantly than the water sources, which run dry by 7 p.m. Basic household items such as cooking pots and soap are also in short supply.
ACT-Caritas and its local partner, Sudanaid, which runs a primary school in the camp, have taken part in a joint assessment. Agencies are now looking into the humanitarian needs and how to respond.
"We want to feel safe"
Humanitarian aid is not the only thing the people in Otash need. "We want to feel safe," states Sherif. "We decided to come to Otash camp because we are looking for protection."
Otash is situated a few kilometers from the town of Nyala, where there are police, military and African Union forces, but this is not complete protection.
"If women go outside the camp to get firewood, they can face trouble," says Sherif, "but it is better here than in the villages."
"What is the role of the role of the African Union? Is it here to protect or just to watch?" asks Sherif. "If I am not fully protected by the Government of Sudan, then the AU should take up this responsibility of protection."
Everyone is worried that the people who attack women outside the camp will dare to enter the camp and attack them. There is no physical barrier around the camp. In addition, the men who attacked their homes are still armed.
According to media reports, Sudan has announced that it will launch a plan to begin disarming the pro-government militias within two months, as part of new national commission to supervise the implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement, which is headed by the president of Sudan. However, it is not clear how the authorities plan to disarm the militias.
Many believe that in contrast to its name, the peace agreement has, in fact, led to an escalation in fighting recently and a renewed spate of attacks on ordinary civilians, who continue to be the biggest victims of the conflict.
"I don’t know why we were attacked. We are normal citizens who have been living in our villages for years," says Sherif.
Action by Churches Together International (ACT) and Caritas Internationalis (CI) are working together in a joint response to the Darfur crisis. ACT International is a global alliance of churches and related agencies working to save lives and support communities in emergencies worldwide. Caritas Internationalis is a confederation of 162 Catholic relief, development, and social service organizations present in 200 countries and territories.
DanChurchAid is a member of ACT International - a global alliance of churches and related agencies working to save lives and support communities in emergencies.