Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Lament of Displaced: 'We Are like Hens in Cages'

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Lament of Displaced: 'We Are like Hens in Cages'

Article excerpt

In cities like Nyala in South Darfur and Zalengei and Garsilla in West Darfur, hundreds of thousands are now in displacement camps--though the term "camps" connotes a sense of order, and order is often in short supply in these places, where residents now dependent on international assistance languish with little to do.

The Sudanese themselves describe their situation as akin to being in prison--"We are like hens in cages" was a lament I heard repeated again and again in the camps--and their situation is imperiled even further because the encampments are frightful, insecure places.

Attacks on camps, allegedly by the Janjaweed and Sudanese security forces, are reportedly common and the situation remains particularly dire for women who, by tradition, collect water and firewood for cooking fuel and must venture out past the camp perimeters.

The humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres issued a report in early March saying its doctors had treated nearly 500 women and girls in South and West Darfur between October 2004 and February 2005 who said they had been raped, most of them as they left the grounds of displacement camps or villages.

This was likely only a fraction of the total, the organization said, because many women are reluctant to report the crime or seek treatment. Worse, the group said, is that nearly a third of those who had been raped said they had been sexually assaulted more than once, some by multiple assailants. And more than half of those said the rapes were accompanied by other physical assaults.

The report would not surprise anyone who has worked in Darfur. "There are very, very, very many cases of rape," a humanitarian worker caring for Sudanese women in western Darfur told me and a group of colleagues. "It's still a very serious problem; it's a problem on a daily basis. …

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