Magazine article The Christian Century

Stuck in Darfur: Refugees Are 'Like Hens in Cages'

Magazine article The Christian Century

Stuck in Darfur: Refugees Are 'Like Hens in Cages'

Article excerpt

ON MY LAST night in Nyala, in southern Darfur, convoys of combat-ready security forces circled the streets of the city, which has become part fortress, part camp for the displaced, and part home for dozens of international humanitarian groups. In the Darfur region, at least 1.5 million persons are, as one aid official says, "stuck between a past they don't want to remember and a future they cannot see or even glimpse." They have fled what they describe as a government-led campaign by Janjaweed militias to drive them from their homes--an allegation the Sudanese government has heatedly and steadfastly denied.

Now they are stuck in camps where most fear for their lives. The women also face the threat of rape. "We are just like hens in cages," said one resident of the Hassa Hissa Camp on the edge of the city of Zalengei.

A long-awaited peace agreement between the government in Khartoum and Sudan's predominately animist and Christian south was finally reached in early January, officially ending a conflict that has resulted in about 2 million deaths over two decades.

But it does little for Darfur, where peace talks between the Sudanese government and rebels have come unglued. The result, says UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, is "a buildup of arms and intensification of violence, including air attacks."

The international community seems resolved to do as little as possible. A few African Union "peacekeeping" forces in Darfur, one observer told me, are a "cover for the West not to do anything."

The debate over genocide in Darfur has faded, with the U.S. (which labeled the events in Darfur genocide) and its allies (which did not) still at odds over what to call the situation. Humanitarians working in Darfur wonder if the debate matters. They note that the label for the disaster doesn't change the statistics: 70,000 dead from illness, disease, hunger and war.

Perhaps the most practical question to ask as a new year begins, says one humanitarian official, is "What will it take to return life in Darfur to the way it was?"

The answer will not come easily. Disarming militias is a tricky business anywhere, and with the Sudanese government and some of the Janjaweed militia reportedly at cross purposes, the situation in Darfur is close to anarchy.

How can the displaced at least be protected? And when can they return to their homes? …

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