Thursday, March 13, 2008

(More) Trouble Brewing for Darfur Refugees

from flickr user hdptcar under a Creative Commons License

According to
The dozen refugee camps in Chad were never an East African Hilton: The logistical challenge of getting resources to camps spread across a landlocked country nearly twice the size of Texas has hampered the refugees' access to necessities like potable water and waterproof roofing. The camps contain diseases that Western countries haven't seen in decades: Playful groups of children with polio are a heartbreakingly common sight. Hundreds of rebels roam the area, forcibly recruiting children from the camps and stealing vehicles from aid workers. Four years of overcrowding in the camps has decimated the area's stock of firewood, pushing the refugees farther into dangerous territory each day to collect what they need.

But unlike most African refugee camps--consisting of hastily assembled shacks scattered across a windswept plain--the camps in Chad were planned well in advance, and designed to last. Djabal resembles a neatly drawn city, a rectangle 1.5 km long and 1 km wide, divided into six well-organized housing sectors. When refugees first began arriving in June 2004, families were given gardens, seeds, and a nursery for trees, with some even receiving livestock. "Repatriation is the goal, but that will not happen with the refugees anytime soon," says Emmanuelle Compingt, a community services officer with UNHCR. "What we want is sustainability. We want them to have some kind of income-generating activity."

After some false starts--animal theft, conflicts over who owned the arable land--the sustainability strategy looked like it was paying off. The average number of calories consumed daily was climbing by the month, peaking at just over 2,100, and some resourceful refugees started trading their homegrown millet and sorghum for tomatoes and sweet tea in the Goz Beida market--relative luxuries for families that fled Darfur with the clothes on their backs. The population was stable and inching up--not from new arrivals (there have been virtually none since the camp opened) but from live births, about 70 each month.

Fighting has erupted between the Chadian government and the rebels in the villages along the Sudanese border--the town of Adré, around which thousands of refugees live, was nearly overrun by rebels in early February--and the violence in the capital last month has disrupted food shipments to the camps. Somewhat ironically, the possibility of new conflict has also delayed the deployment of an already behind-schedule European Union peacekeeping force--3,700 troops who were intended to secure the refugee camps. Originally slated to deploy in November 2007, only a fraction of the forces arrived in mid-February 2008. The chronically belated mission has never seemed more necessary. A week after fighting broke out in the capital, the Sudanese army bombed towns in western Darfur, pushing 12,000 more victims into Chad. The ballooning refugee population and dwindling humanitarian presence has made the situation on the border so untenable that, on February 11, Chad's Prime Minister said the international community needed to move the refugees back to Sudan, or the Chadian government would move them itself.
This kind of report right after the departure of Samantha Power from Obama's campaign is particularly poignant... but as one of the most visible voices against genocide that I'm aware of, it's a shame she won't be near the spotlight any time soon (though perhaps not being part of a Presidential campaign allows her to speak more forcefully?).

Anyway... I think I'll finally buy her book though.