SPECIAL REPORTS

Hope Amidst Despair

Darfur villages lie in ruins but the people are still clinging to life, albeit in an assortment of refugee camps

A view from a refugee camp in Darfur. © Aktion Deutschland Hilft 2009

A view from a refugee camp in Darfur. © Mocha Club  2008

The terror seems to sweep through this mostly desert land like an approaching tsunami. The sound of men on horseback, combined with SUVs, and planes roaring overhead triggers the fear – and then is backed by the extreme violence. It all seems to happen at once: the bombs fall, the men on horseback swoop in and start firing their weapons, and the homes are torched. The lives of the innocent are taken without a sign of remorse; they are shot point blank inside their homes and in their place of worship.

And so those being attacked suddenly must go on the run, into the hidden enclaves, the bush and the riverbeds, hiding from an enemy that will chase them and continue to punish and victimize the survivors. U.N.-sponsored refugee camps become their havens but even those are not safe.

More than 300,000 (some estimate the figure to be 400,000) have died in this conflict and 2.5 million have been displaced.

This scene of bloodshed and the innocent fleeing for their lives is the reality of Darfur, which lies on the western edge and to the north of Sudan. Since a rebel group emerged in 2003 to go against a government that blatantly ignored the needs of African farmers, the ‘counterinsurgency’ here has been filled with an overwhelmingly violence, spawned by a Arab militia working in tandem with government military forces.

In the words of a 20-year old woman from Dasa village in Darfur, now in a refugee camp in eastern Chad, as quoted in a Amnesty International post on their website: “I was sleeping when the attack took place. I was taken away by the attackers in khaki and in civilians clothes, along with dozens of other girls, and had to walk for three hours. During the day, we were beaten up and the Janjawid they told us: 'you, the black women, we will exterminate you; you have no God.' We were taken to a place in the bush were the Janjawid raped us several times at night. For three days, we did not receive food and almost no water. After three days, the Janjawid had to move to another place and set us free. They told us: 'next time we come, we will exterminate you all, we will not even leave a child alive'." Like most conflagrating conflicts in the new millennium, the kindling for this fire was caused by ethnic and tribal differences, caused to ignite in the way it has because of opposing interests and a government that has fueled the firepower of one side (the Arab nomads) over the other (African farmers).

These two people groups, Arab nomads and African farmers, had lived in harmony for centuries, intermarrying and sharing a common bond as they shared a common land. But changing times and changing circumstances weakened the mutually coexisting relationship that was once there.

Poor environmental conditions, specifically a drought, was the starting point for the tensions and then the bloodshed to come. In the midst of that drought, African farmers were upset that nothing was being done from them to survive in conjunction with a general animosity that the government favored the Arab nomads.

And so a group of farming tribesmen under the banner Sudan Liberation Army, attacked an airport in the town of El Fasher, taking the lives of 75 Sudanese government soldiers in the process. The attacks sparked government action, which has transformed into a flood of weapons for the Arab nomads, leading bullets being fired rooted in hatred.

The Arab nomads have taken the call of mercenaries as if it were a part of their unique historical narrative. They began to call themselves Janjaweed, which comes to mean "devils on horseback." The fighting force has not only sought to put down rebel forces, but seeks to destroy entire villages, killing the men, raping the women, and setting an the huts ablaze.

The method of attack, in which people’s homes became a ball of fire, have sent people on the move, sometimes from refugee camp to refugee camp, trekking days on foot for some sort of respite from the turmoil.

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Darfur today remains a country in chaos, split between supporting a president who is providing for the Arab population and a displaced people group struggling to survive in refugee camps on the outskirts of Darfur and into Chad.

The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant on Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir, one which was very much ignored by the embattled president. He continues to hold office and make decisions that lead to more violence rather than peace.

His country told 13 foreign and three local non-governmental organizations to leave, based on their support for the ICC warrant.

Despite the circumstances, relief prevails, in the form of a select group of agencies, including the Christian agency Samaritan’s Purse, run by Franklin Graham. Sources say that without such relief the refugees of Darfur would have been left without food, water, and medical supplies to survive.

“My desire is to show God's love for people by helping them,” he said in an interview with local media. “We want to work for all of Sudan. We want to help Christians, Muslims, people of no faith—we want to help them all.

“We want to show the love of God—the love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ—to each and every person in this country. We want to work toward peace.”

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There are those at the camps that have learned to rebuild their lives, that have—through the mercy of God—recovered from violence to start anew.

Mohammed, 10, shared his story with the non-profit humanitarian aid agency International Rescue Committee in the summer of 2006. He and his family survived a Janjaweed attack and re-settled in the northern Darfur town of Nyala, where it was estimated that 150,000 refugees took root in, building huts out of straw and plastic sheeting.

His life, like so many other refugees, has been shaped and molded not only by the conflict but by the support of agencies. Is his camp in Sekeli, the International Relief Committee, has helped establish a children center, facilitated by the refugees and overseen by aid workers. Those close to the program say that the kids that came there once drew pictures of guns blazing and now draw pictures of flowers and people shaking hands.

Though uncertainty of a future prevails, the love and development at the camps has at least inspired hope and that a life of meaning can be achieved.

Said Mohammed in that IRC summer 2006 report: “I want to become a teacher. I like the teachers here and I want to help all the small children who can't go to school.”